Two years after being widely panned for a filter that critics described as little more than “digital blackface,” FaceApp, a photo-altering smartphone app, found itself at the center of a popular social media challenge.
A range of celebrities had been using the app’s age filter to modify photographs of themselves and provide realistic glimpses of what they could look like decades in the future. The program says that its three age filters — two for younger-looking images, one for older — use “artificial intelligence” to produce plausible alterations to existing photos.
However, Severe privacy concerns have been raised about the app. People raised fears on Twitter and other social media sites that on iPhones, FaceApp would be able to see and upload all your photos, including screenshots with sensitive financial or health information or photos of kids with the names of their schools in the background. The app, which was created by Wireless Lab of St. Petersburg, Russia, and was ranking among the top free offerings in both the Apple and Android app stores on last Wednesday, might be uploading much more data than users realized.
But at least some of those concerns are overblown, according to several security researchers. “The info sent by the application was only my device model, my device ID and Android version, which is very limited information and is quite common for an application,” said Baptiste Robert, a French security researcher who specializes in smartphone apps that abuse user data.
That's not to say the app isn't free of problems. Among other things, photos are sent to the cloud for processing in both the iPhone and Android versions, exposing them to hacking and other problems. FaceApp does not explicitly tell users the photos are being sent to the cloud.