Govt may ban FaceApp for armed forces and paramilitary personnel

Illustration – Unsplash | Makhmutova Dina

Illustration – Unsplash | Makhmutova Dina

FaceApp was developed in Russian Federation by Wireless Lab and its latest old age filter has been taking social media by storm, with celebrities among the hordes of people responding to the #faceappchallenge to digitally age their faces and share photos of what they will one day look like. Earlier in 2017, FaceApp was forced to remove filter which allowed users to change their ethnicity, with many calling the app out as racist.

Wireless Lab, the St. Petersburg, Russia-based company behind FaceApp, has also denied selling or sharing users' data with third parties.

Launched in 2017, the app built up a large following and then made headlines previous year after users condemned its "ethnicity filters" as racist.

In the past week, however, its popularity surged again, as a viral challenge with the hashtag #AgeChallenge filled the Internet with photos of people - including celebrities - sporting grey hair and wrinkles.

French security researcher Elliot Alderson wrote on Twitter, "People freak out by reading the vague T&Cs of FaceApp". Over 100 million have downloaded the app from Google Play, and as of right now, FaceApp is the top-ranked app on the iOS App Store in 121 countries.

That might not be risky, but the fact remains that the Russian parent company that has created FaceApp, Wireless Labs, does own a license to do whatever they want with it. Peter Kostadinov from PhoneArena says, 'You might end up on a billboard somewhere in Moscow, but your face will most likely end up training some AI facial-recognition algorithm.' However, whether that matters to you or not is entirely your decision.

What is more worrying is that the app uploads pictures to the cloud rather than storing locally, which according to the company helps with the performance and traffic.

What are the privacy concerns around FaceApp?

Although Nozzi recanted his initial position in a blog post on Wednesday, the damage from his initial tweet was done.

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The episode prompted online users to read the fine print under the app's terms of use, and one clause in particular did not sit comfortably with them.

Nozzi also realised that FaceApp connects to users' Facebook accounts, whether they want it to or not. Oh, and it has access to refreshing in the background - so even when you are not using it, it is using you.' Have you tried the app, though? But it also gains access to Siri and Search...

Is it different from other apps?

It alleged that the app's creators are harvesting metadata from their photos.

Some of these concerns were addressed by FaceApp founder Yaroslav Goncharov who clarified the app's privacy policies and said no data is transferred to Russian Federation.

Dr Steven Wong, president of the Association of Information Security Professionals, said: "For apps that take photos of the user, the user must be aware that high-resolution pictures of them are now available to the vendor". It is a type of artificial intelligence to make the facial transformations.

However, the director of UNSW Canberra Cyber, Nigel Phair, is advising people not to use the AI-powered app as they first have to agree to terms and conditions which allow FaceApp to use their images as they like.

Digital forensics specialist Ali Fazeli said that the privacy problem is more widespread than commonly thought. " Instagram also can use content from it's platform".

"The reality is that the Russian state don't abide by the worldwide norms", he said.

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