If you’ve been anywhere near social media for the last few weeks, you’ve probably seen people posting photos of themselves, but aged to make them look 60, 70, or older. Those photos come from an app called FaceApp, which uses artificial intelligence to age people. The app has actually been around for a few years but only recently gotten attention from the internet at large.
However, while the app can be fun if you want to see what the future might have in store for you in the looks department, there are some major privacy concerns. For instance, as TechCrunch notes, when a user taps a photo in their library that they want FaceApp to work its age magic on, the app actually uploads that photo to FaceApp’s servers in Russia (where the company that makes the app is located) and the age effects are crunched by the AI there, off your device.
FaceApp does not alert the user that their photo has been uploaded to the cloud, nor does it specify in its policies if the company retains your original photo or what the company is allowed to do with it. All of Apple’s first-party apps that use AI and machine learning do so on the user’s device–not in the cloud. So people could think that, by default, FaceApp works the same way–which it certainly does not.
Eyebrows were raised lately when app developer Joshua Nozzi tweeted that FaceApp was uploading troves of photos from people’s smartphones without asking permission.
However, a French cyber-security researcher who uses the pseudonym Elliot Alderson investigated Mr Nozzi’s claims.
He found that no such bulk uploading was going on – FaceApp was only taking the specific photos users decided to submit.
FaceApp also confirmed to the BBC that only the user-submitted photo is uploaded. Some question why FaceApp needs to upload photos at all when the app could in theory just process images locally on smartphones rather than send them to the cloud. In FaceApp’s case, the server that stores user photos is located in the US. FaceApp itself is a Russian company with offices in St Petersburg.
Cyber-security researcher Jane Manchun Wong tweeted that this may simply give FaceApp a competitive advantage – it is harder for others developing similar apps to see how the algorithms work.