FaceApp! It’s the newest thing! It’s all the rage! You can make your parents young! You can make your children old! It doesn’t work on dogs yet but hey, there’s a possibility one day it will!
There’s a lot of hype going around when it comes to FaceApp. It’s been all the buzz on the 24 hour news channels. What seemed like harmless app designed to use machine learning to alter appearances quickly came to be touted as a massive security threat to anyone who installed it on their device.
So what’s the truth? Is FaceApp secretly spying on you? Is Putin perusing your photos late at night when he can’t sleep and is in-between playing games like Words With Friends?
Let’s break it down!
What is FaceApp?
It’s an app…that allows you to upload pictures, of yourself, or of your family and friends, to the Cloud where a much larger piece of software uses machine learning to alter the photo using a variety of filters and user-made choices.
With FaceApp you can:
- Make your self look young
- Make yourself look old
- Change your hairstyle
- Add or remove facial hair
- Change your expression
- Add or remove make up
- Change the background of your photo
- Add tattoos to your face
Interested in seeing a few examples? Well you came to the right place! For your approval, I give you what I call “The Many Faces of Putin”:
If I’m being perfectly honest, the last one is my favorite.
I made all of those using FaceApp. It took me about 5 minutes to do it. It’s sort of fun, I won’t lie to you.
Why Putin though? I know, I’ve mentioned him twice without giving much of an explanation. I’m getting to that now…
Who created FaceApp? How long has it been around?
So, FaceApp’s published by a company called Wireless Labs. It’s based in Saint Petersburg, Russia. The app’s been around since 2017 but it only recently went viral. I personally heard about it a few months ago and thought it was fairly entertaining when I first tried it.
However, because the publisher is in Russia, and because currently Russia’s been all up in our (the United States) business in EVERY sense of the term, the popularity of the app became pretty concerning for some bigwigs in Washington D.C. (namely New York Senator Chuck Schumer).
What were people afraid of?
Sen. Schumer, and others speculated that FaceApp could “possibly” be:
- Uploading an end-user’s entire photo library to servers in Russia
- Its publisher, Wireless Labs, might be turning the pictures the app gathered over to the Kremlin
- The Kremlin would use it to build a facial recognition database, sort of like what the FBI and ICE have been doing using DMV databases illegally and without Congressional approval across the country (that’s a story for another day but you can read more about it here: https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2019/07/07/fbi-ice-find-state-drivers-license-photos-are-gold-mine-facial-recognition-searches/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.8287404537ee)
Not wanting to be possibly beaten at their own game of spying on their own citizens, a commotion was created and a minor panic ensued.
Is FaceApp safe?
According to Tech Radar (story here: https://www.techradar.com/news/is-faceapp-safe-a-deeper-look-at-the-viral-hit) FaceApp is absolutely safe and its users shouldn’t be worried.
The Tech Radar story mentions that while Wireless Labs is based in the former Soviet Union, most of the heavy duty computing and machine learning is done on servers here in the United States.
Also, from what their researchers could tell, the app is not uploading the end-users entire photo library up to the cloud. The only photo the app grabs is the one designated for editing by the end-user.
Should you use FaceApp?
We’ve made the case AGAINST using Russian-made software before. We stand by that. Any software that comes out of Russia could be hazardous to your privacy.
If it were up to me I’d stay clear of it. Don’t install it. Don’t use it. Don’t promote it.
I installed it again briefly on my own personal device today for the purpose of writing this article. Like I said earlier it is fun and I wanted to use a few a of the features in order to demonstrate how exactly it worked.
Essentially, any photo uploaded to FaceApp’s servers in turn belongs to them and they can use it as they see fit.
Sadly, this is pretty run of the mill. Facebook, Instagram and other social media companies/photo sharing services have included similar language in their privacy policies.
It’s controversial, yes. And rather sneaky, but totally common.
Also, I’d be remiss to mention that none of this mean’s the Kremlin WON’T try and use the files FaceApp has collected in the future to try and gain information on high quality targets.
Heck, one day FaceApp might help Russia finally locate the two American agents who have been dodging them for nearly 50 years. But hey, that’s just me speculating.
Finally, it’s up to you if want to install it and run the risk of those photos falling into nebulous hands, but Integris wouldn’t recommend it.
So that’s that. To make a long story short, Putin is probably NOT perusing your photo libraries late at night while playing Words With Friends. If anything, he’s sharing photos with his BESTY, who is also using FaceApp.
Case in point: