Snapchat filters

Four Things to Know About FaceApp and Your Privacy

If you’ve been on social media this week, you’ve probably seen a full cycle of a viral app. In a matter of days, the world went from “OMG, FaceApp is COOL!” to “OMG, FaceApp is SCARY!”

FaceApp is simple: Upload a headshot (yours or someone else’s), and add a filter to look younger or older, happier or prettier. You can even change genders.

I did it. Lots of my friends did it. And many of you did it (you don’t have to admit it). Wil Wheaton didn’t do it (swoon). He posted a picture of the actor Star Trek: The Next Generation used to play “older Wesley Crusher.”

(Y’all, I am crazy about Wil Wheaton! I wrote to him to try to get a blurb for the book. He hasn’t written back. 🙁 If anyone knows him, help me!)

Anyway, back to FaceApp (but #WilWheaton! Swoon!)…. Within probably 48 hours, millions of us had tried it out and shared our old selves. And then the security nerds read the fine print… FaceApp is made by a Russian company, and the terms and conditions might mean that our faces are being used for all kinds of bad Russian things.

Five Things to Know About FaceApp

One: Russian Tech Companies Are Scary

A Russian company is not necessarily evil, but experts are positive that Russian hackers interfered with the 2016 U.S. election. It would follow that it’s not a good idea to share personal info with a Russian company with mad tech skills.

Two: FaceApp’s Fine Print Is Scary

This is one of the sections in the FaceApp’s Terms. Read this carefully:

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 provided in connection with your User Content in all media formats and channels now known or later developed, without compensation to you.

Translation: When you share your images, they can do absolutely anything they want with them.

Three: Other Places We Share Images Are Just as Scary

FaceApp’s Terms are horrifying, right? I mean, we would NEVER grant that kind of license!

Now read this carefully: Facebook’s Terms…

…When you share, post, or upload content that is covered by intellectual property rights (like photos or videos) on or in connection with our Products, you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, and worldwide license to host, use, distribute, modify, run, copy, publicly perform or display, translate, and create derivative works of your content (consistent with your privacy and settings).

Sounds pretty familiar, right? I’ve said it before… When the product is free, you are the product. Facebook has done a lot of work on its Terms and Privacy statements because of recent (ongoing, perpetual) criticism, and the platform provides data control settings to let you limit its reach. But many (most?) of us don’t take the time to change the settings.

Four: FaceApp Says It’s Not that Scary

This is the second wave of FaceApp, and it freaked people out with the same kinds of concerns when it appeared in 2017. In response to the Great FaceApp Freakout of 2019, FaceApp tried to reassure people.

FaceApp claims…

  • They don’t store your photos in Russia.
  • They don’t process your photos in Russia.
  • Most photos are deleted from the cloud within 48 hours.
  • They don’t access the other photos in your phone.
  • They don’t sell or share your data with any third parties.
  • You don’t have to login to use the filters so they can’t link your images with your name.
  • They will remove all your data from their servers if you request. “For the fastest processing, we recommend sending the requests from the FaceApp mobile app using “Settings->Support->Report a bug” with the word ‘privacy’ in the subject line. We are working on the better UI for that.”

Do I believe them? Sigh. Hell if I know. I’ve had speaker friends who have gone viral for the wrong reasons when the real story was way different than the internet story. Yes, we need to stop using this app. There are too many risky loopholes in this scenario. But this should be an important lesson to always check the fine print and to be more careful with all of our personal data.

In the meantime, please enjoy this horrifying video of me trying out some Snapchat filters. (FYI, here is a sentence from Snapchat’s Terms: For all content you submit to the Services other than Public Content, you grant Snap Inc. and our affiliates a worldwide, royalty-free, sublicensable, and transferable license to host, store, use, display, reproduce, modify, adapt, edit, publish, and distribute that content. )

What do you think? What other concerns do you have?

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