Experts Say FaceApp Fad Comes with National Security Risks

The latest social media craze –– an AI-enabled app that virtually ages faces –– has sparked concern among privacy experts and lawmakers. The app’s Russian origins have some questioning its access to Americans’ data.

by Marie Szaniszlo, Boston Herald / July 19, 2019
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(TNS) — FaceApp has been downloaded from Google Play by more than 100 million people, all drawn in by a technological magic trick, an app that transforms your photo to show how you would look with a different color of eyes, with long or short hair, or with wrinkles in your old age.

It’s the top-ranked app on the iOS App Store in 121 countries.

And if you read the fine print for FaceApp — which few people do — you’ll learn that by using it, you are giving the app’s Russian owners the right to use your image however they choose.

That could mean your face in a global stock photo file — popping up on billboards or in political ads in different countries around the world without your knowledge, and with no compensation, tech experts say. Your face may also end up in global facial recognition systems.

“People are handing over their rights to information on their phones in perpetuity,” said Albert Fox Cahn, executive director of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project. “I don’t think users understand how their photo libraries are being used as part of a growing machine-learning database. It’s a permanent, licensed use of your photo to come up with new ways to use and monetize it. I’m a Harvard-educated lawyer, and still a lot of times, I don’t understand what these terms of service say unless I take the time to read them in detail. They’re often written to be opaque and confusing.”

Kate O’Neill, a New York-based technology consultant, recommended that people not use FaceApp or, if they have used it, to request that their photo be deleted.

“The rights we hand over when we share that photo with the app are so broad, it’s not clear how it can be used,” O’Neill said. “It certainly could be more far-reaching than individual people’s rights and data. The fact that the company is based in Russia does raise legitimate concerns linked to efforts we’ve seen by people based on Russia meddling in political campaigns.”

U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has called for a federal investigation into FaceApp’s owners over what he says are potential national security and privacy risks to millions of Americans.

FaceApp did not respond Thursday to requests for comment.

Kade Crockford, director of the Technology for Liberty Program at the ACLU of Massachusetts, said FaceApp also raises the specter of unregulated face recognition.

“Companies need large data sets to train artificial intelligence systems,” Crockford said. “It’s possible that this information is being used behind closed doors to train face surveillance algorithms that could be used to track and monitor our every public movement.”

Apps such as FaceApp, she said, exploit the fact that the U.S. has no comprehensive data privacy regulation.

“That’s a political problem, not a technology problem,” Crockford said. “Anyone concerned about these issues should call on their state and federal lawmakers and demand they put people’s privacy over corporate profits.”

The following excerpts come from the FaceApp user terms:

“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….

“By accessing or using our Services, you consent to the processing, transfer and storage of information about you in and to the United States and other countries, where you may not have the same rights and protections as you do under local law.”

©2019 the Boston Herald. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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