FaceApp: privacy fears over app that has gone viral

Celebrities who have posted “aged” photographs of themselves include the chef Gordon Ramsay, the actress Courtney Cox and the former England footballer Peter Crouch

A photo-altering app that has gone viral with its realistic previews of how people might look in old age gives its Russian developers extensive access to users’ personal information, tech experts have warned.

Fears emerged over FaceApp after British and US celebrities began posting photos of themselves using its ageing filter. The data watchdog has said that it is aware of the concerns.

Experts highlighted the app’s small print, which grants the developer extensive rights over users’ photos. Concerns have been heightened due to its origins, which includes having received support from a Russian-government-funded tech “incubator”, a company that helps start-ups.

The Information Commissioner’s Office did not say whether it was investigating the app but warned people to be wary about what details they share when downloading any app. In the US, the Democratic National Committee, which fell victim to Russian hacking in 2016, told staff to delete the app immediately.

Celebrities including the chef Gordon Ramsay and the Canadian rapper Drake posted photos showing themselves artificially aged, with thinner, greyer hair, sagging jowls and wrinkles. Others used the app to generate aged depictions of politicians and public figures.

The pictures have been shared and liked millions of times. More than 100 million people have downloaded the app from the Google Play store and it is the most downloaded iPhone app in scores of countries, including Britain. But its terms and conditions have led to concerns that it could be used to harvest photos and data from phones — something that the developer denies.

Concerns about app developers’ intentions have increased as a result of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, when it emerged that Aleksandr Kogan, a researcher with links to Russia, encouraged Facebook users to take “personality tests”, giving him access to their data in the process. This was sold to Cambridge Analytica, the rogue political consultancy.

Solicitors raised concerns about FaceApp’s privacy policy, which states that information collected may be stored and processed in “any country” in which FaceApp or its affiliates maintain facilities. FaceApp’s terms grant it a “perpetual, irrevocable, non-exclusive, royalty-free, worldwide, fully paid, transferable sub-licensable licence” to use, reproduce, modify and publish users’ photos and to use any content “for commercial purposes”.

It says that the company gathers data such as on users’ locations and web pages they visit. Tech experts also raised concerns about it sending users’ photos to its own servers, rather than processing them on their devices.

According to the website of Skolkovo, a tech incubator allocated 2.5 billion roubles (£32 million) of Russian government funding, it has supported Wireless Lab, the developer behind FaceApp, since last year and its office is in Skolkovo’s Moscow site. Wireless Lab said it had not received any grant funding, only help in “marketing”.

FaceApp was founded by Yaroslav Goncharov, a former senior employee at Yandex, the Russian search engine and tech giant. He said that the app did not sell or share user data with third parties. He denied reports that FaceApp uploaded users’ entire camera rolls to its servers. FaceApp said its research and development team was located in Russia but user data was not transferred to the country.


Recent Posts

See All
  • White Facebook Icon
  • White Twitter Icon
  • White Google+ Icon