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 12:26 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.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 48201

Reported Deaths: 2693
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion11624683
Lake5146242
Elkhart328546
Allen2762129
St. Joseph194366
Cass16389
Hamilton1552101
Hendricks1403100
Johnson1278118
Porter72837
Tippecanoe7158
Madison65864
Clark65144
Bartholomew58544
Howard57557
LaPorte57326
Kosciusko5464
Vanderburgh5226
Marshall4924
Noble47828
Jackson4703
LaGrange4708
Hancock44835
Boone44243
Delaware44250
Shelby42525
Floyd37944
Morgan32931
Grant29426
Monroe29428
Montgomery29420
Clinton2892
Dubois2736
Henry26315
White26310
Decatur25032
Lawrence24425
Dearborn23623
Vigo2348
Warrick21429
Harrison21322
Unassigned193193
Greene18832
Miami1822
Jennings17611
Putnam1698
DeKalb1624
Scott1607
Daviess14317
Wayne1386
Orange13623
Steuben1292
Perry1279
Franklin1248
Jasper1212
Ripley1167
Wabash1122
Carroll1102
Fayette997
Newton9810
Starke933
Whitley925
Huntington812
Gibson802
Randolph794
Jefferson722
Wells721
Fulton701
Jay680
Washington671
Knox640
Pulaski641
Clay604
Rush583
Adams501
Benton480
Owen471
Sullivan441
Brown391
Posey390
Spencer381
Blackford372
Crawford320
Tipton321
Fountain312
Switzerland270
Parke230
Martin220
Ohio170
Vermillion140
Warren141
Union130
Pike110

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 57150

Reported Deaths: 2911
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Franklin10271422
Cuyahoga7724373
Hamilton5924197
Marion273238
Lucas2723302
Pickaway219141
Summit2131206
Montgomery198126
Mahoning1825232
Butler157644
Columbiana130360
Stark1107112
Lorain102167
Trumbull93965
Warren83921
Clark7659
Delaware56815
Fairfield55916
Tuscarawas55210
Belmont54622
Medina51632
Lake49718
Licking47712
Miami46331
Portage44058
Ashtabula43344
Wood42151
Geauga40542
Clermont4006
Wayne36251
Richland3375
Allen31540
Mercer2818
Greene2519
Darke24825
Erie24222
Holmes2313
Huron2152
Madison1958
Ottawa14323
Crawford1355
Sandusky13414
Washington13220
Putnam12815
Ross1243
Hardin12312
Morrow1161
Auglaize1064
Coshocton972
Monroe8917
Jefferson872
Union851
Muskingum831
Hancock781
Hocking788
Preble731
Guernsey703
Lawrence700
Williams702
Clinton680
Shelby684
Logan621
Fulton610
Ashland591
Carroll593
Wyandot586
Athens561
Brown561
Knox511
Defiance503
Fayette460
Highland451
Champaign401
Scioto380
Perry341
Van Wert340
Seneca332
Henry290
Jackson230
Paulding230
Pike230
Adams221
Vinton222
Gallia171
Harrison121
Meigs120
Morgan110
Noble110
Unassigned00
Fort Wayne
Clear
72° wxIcon
Hi: 93° Lo: 70°
Feels Like: 72°
Angola
66° wxIcon
Hi: 92° Lo: 68°
Feels Like: 66°
Huntington
Clear
71° wxIcon
Hi: 91° Lo: 69°
Feels Like: 71°
Decatur
Clear
70° wxIcon
Hi: 92° Lo: 70°
Feels Like: 70°
Van Wert
Clear
70° wxIcon
Hi: 93° Lo: 71°
Feels Like: 70°
Few Storms Tuesday
WFFT Radar
WFFT Temperatures
WFFT National

Community Events