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Russian ‘FaceApp’ now owns your photos and can do whatever it wants with them

Person using smartphone photo app. (PxHere/Released)
July 17, 2019

One of the most popular apps in the world, Russian-developed “FaceApp,” is taking your edited photos and potentially using them for nefarious purposes with your permission.

FaceApp, a photo filter created in 2017, has quickly become one of the most downloaded apps in the world due to its sensational ability to use artificial intelligence to digitally alters faces to look older, but the app is taking the images from users and using those images for whatever it wants, the New York Post reported Wednesday.

Upon using the app, it requests permission to access the photo gallery. Like many apps, users don’t read much into the details of the permissions, or the app’s terms and conditions, before granting that permission.

FaceApp’s terms and conditions specify that the company can rightfully use images processed through its app in any way.

“You grant FaceApp a perpetual, irrevocable, nonexclusive, royalty-free, worldwide, fully-paid, transferable sub-licensable license to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, create derivative works from, distribute, publicly perform and display your User Content and any name, username or likeness,” the app’s terms read, at time of this publication.

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“When you post or otherwise share User Content on or through our Services, you understand that your User Content and any associated information (such as your [username], location or profile photo) will be visible to the public,” the terms add.

The terms also specify that all user content “may be used for commercial purposes” but fails to clarify what those purposes may be. It notes just that those purposes “will not result in any injury” to its users.

FaceApp developers reportedly issued a statement to be included in a forthcoming Wired story. The statement addresses security concerns with the app, insisting that data isn’t sold or shared with third parties or transferred to Russia, and users can request to remove their data from the app’s servers, journalist Chris Stokel-Walker tweeted.

Analysts at Tech Crunch and security researchers at Guardian App and Baptist Robert said that the FaceApp does not automatically upload users’ entire photo galleries, but the app is able to pull photos selected by the user even if they denied the app access to their photo gallery, Tech Crunch reported.

Security expert Ariel Hochstadt from vpnMentor told Daily Mail said that this kind of data collection could be accessed by hackers, who could conveniently place faces with names – a connection they weren’t able to make before when accessing user data.

“With so many breaches, they can get information and hack cameras that are out there, and be able to create a database of people all over the world, with information these people didn’t imagine is collected on them,” Hochstadt said.

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Security and technology experts are warning users to exercise more caution when handing over photos, especially when photo galleries obtain more sensitive information than ever.

“Your face is now a form of copyright where you need to be really careful who you give permission to access your biometric data,” technology expert Steve Sammartino said in an interview with Australian journalist Ben Fordham.

“If you start using that willy nilly, in the future when we’re using our face to access things, like our money and credit cards, then what we’ve done is we’ve handed the keys to others,” he warned.