FaceApp's viral success proves we will never take our digital privacy seriously

CNN's Hadas Gold looks at the security concerns surrounding "FaceApp," a smartphone app made by a small company in Russia that allows users to age their selfies by decades, because it's user terms grant "full access" to personal photos and data.

Posted: Jul 18, 2019 1:36 PM


In early 2017, a service called FaceApp received a wave of press for using artificial intelligence to transform pictures of faces, making them look older or younger, male or female, or adding a smile to appear happier.

This week, FaceApp once again made headlines as celebrities, including the Jonas Brothers, Drake and Dwayne Wade, appeared to use the app to show what they might look like when they get much older. Enough people rushed to download the app and see their own selfies turn gray that FaceApp is currently the top free app in Apple's App Store.

By Wednesday morning, however, there were growing privacy concerns about the app. As one breathless headline in a New York tabloid put it: "Russians now own all your old photos."

The fears came from stitching together scary sounding but unfortunately not uncommon wording in the app's terms of service with an unverified -- and now deleted -- claim from a developer on Twitter about the app "uploading all your photos" and the simple fact that the company is based in St. Petersburg, Russia.

The FaceApp episode highlights how, after more than a year of high-profile privacy scandals in the tech industry, consumers still don't adequately scrutinize services before handing over their sensitive personal data. At the same time, it's a reminder of how little we understand how companies collect our information and what rights they have to it.

Joshua Nozzi, the developer who first raised alarms about FaceApp, and other security researchers later knocked down the initial fear that FaceApp is covertly harvesting your entire smartphone camera roll. Likewise, the fact that a company is based in Russia doesn't automatically mean it's a tool of the Russian government.

"Most images are deleted from our servers within 48 hours from the upload date," the company said in a lengthy statement provided to TechCrunch addressing the privacy concerns. (Representatives for FaceApp did not immediately respond to our request for comment.)

What remains concerning, however, is the language in the app's terms of service. In one densely-worded section, the company informs users that they "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: FaceApp can effectively do what it wants with your selfie. But this puts FaceApp in pretty good company. Other prominent tech companies have inserted similarly concerning language into terms of service over the years to assert their rights to use names, pictures and other content shared by users as they please.

"If you share a photo on Facebook, you give us permission to store, copy, and share it with others," Facebook says in its own terms of service.

And yet, we keep sharing first and asking questions later, if we ask them at all.

In between FaceApp's first brush with virality and its explosion in popularity this week, there have been a number of tech privacy scandals, any one of which should arguably have been enough to make people at least reconsider how much information they share with tech companies.

Data collected through a seemingly benign personality test on Facebook was provided to Cambridge Analytica, a controversial data firm that worked for Donald Trump's presidential campaign. A popular period tracking app was found to be sharing data with Facebook. Amazon reportedly employs a global team to listen when you speak to its Echo smart speakers.

But the moment we hear about a flashy new service that can make our selfies look older, or match them with a famous painting, we are quick to throw caution to the wind and hand over the photo of our face, without knowing for sure where it's stored or what it may be used for.

Tech companies certainly deserve criticism for their data privacy practices, but so do we.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 309223

Reported Deaths: 7153
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto21005250
Hinds19989411
Harrison17590303
Rankin13388277
Jackson13169243
Madison9965212
Lee9900170
Jones8319161
Forrest7554149
Lauderdale7232237
Lowndes6306144
Lamar614685
Lafayette6081118
Washington5296133
Bolivar4778130
Oktibbeha458097
Panola4461103
Pearl River4447142
Warren4310119
Marshall4302103
Pontotoc417672
Monroe4063132
Union405175
Neshoba4009176
Lincoln3892109
Hancock373785
Leflore3471124
Sunflower332090
Tate325984
Pike3226105
Scott311973
Yazoo305369
Alcorn301566
Itawamba297977
Copiah294365
Coahoma290779
Simpson290486
Tippah285368
Prentiss276659
Marion266479
Leake262473
Wayne261541
Grenada257385
Covington255380
Adams247082
Newton246161
George238947
Winston226181
Tishomingo222867
Jasper220248
Attala213673
Chickasaw205857
Holmes187272
Clay183354
Stone179733
Clarke178177
Tallahatchie176240
Calhoun165632
Yalobusha160236
Smith159734
Walthall131143
Greene129633
Lawrence126823
Noxubee126634
Montgomery125842
Perry125238
Amite121041
Carroll121026
Webster113932
Jefferson Davis105932
Tunica103425
Claiborne101430
Benton97525
Kemper95728
Humphreys94732
Franklin83123
Quitman78916
Choctaw74417
Wilkinson65329
Jefferson64928
Sharkey49817
Issaquena1686
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 522512

Reported Deaths: 10790
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson755371494
Mobile39129799
Madison34124500
Tuscaloosa25408444
Montgomery24059573
Shelby23225242
Baldwin20730302
Lee15638166
Calhoun14358311
Morgan14171273
Etowah13705348
Marshall12012220
Houston10416279
Elmore10024203
Limestone9862148
Cullman9509191
St. Clair9486236
Lauderdale9280233
DeKalb8762183
Talladega8127173
Walker7151276
Autauga6763106
Jackson6762110
Blount6532133
Colbert6236132
Coffee5436113
Dale4781111
Russell431239
Franklin421382
Chilton4130110
Covington4069115
Tallapoosa3922148
Escambia390374
Dallas3528150
Chambers3519122
Clarke347360
Marion3076100
Pike306676
Lawrence296395
Winston273272
Bibb256761
Marengo248561
Geneva246475
Pickens233259
Barbour227155
Hale218675
Butler213268
Fayette209660
Henry188444
Cherokee182744
Randolph177841
Monroe173140
Washington165538
Macon156548
Clay150255
Crenshaw149557
Cleburne147041
Lamar140034
Lowndes137353
Wilcox124727
Bullock122040
Conecuh109728
Perry107726
Sumter103332
Coosa99428
Greene91434
Choctaw58824
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