Earlier this week, social media was overrun with the Aging Filter. On Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, internet users couldn’t escape the pictures of friends and celebrities altering their faces to look older.
But a day or two ago, the conversation changed to concerns for personal and national security. After it was discovered that the app where this filter originated is owned by a Russian Company, many people started having flashbacks to the 2016 US Presidential election where Russia interfered with the election through social media.
Then, a scan over the company’s terms of service created a panic as internet users realized that by using the app, they had given away rights to their faces.
“If you use #FaceApp you are giving them a license to use your photos, your name, your username, and your likeness for any purpose including commercial purposes (like on a billboard or internet ad) — see their Terms,” wrote attorney Elizabeth Potts Weinstein on Twitter.
If you use #FaceApp you are giving them a license to use your photos, your name, your username, and your likeness for any purpose including commercial purposes (like on a billboard or internet ad) — see their Terms: https://t.co/e0sTgzowoN pic.twitter.com/XzYxRdXZ9q
— Elizabeth Potts Weinstein (@ElizabethPW) July 17, 2019
FaceApp's terms of service page is a DOOZY.
— James Whatley 🔜 Gamescom (@Whatleydude) July 17, 2019
Concerns have gotten so bad that U.S. Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer has called on the FBI and the Federal Trade Commission to make sure there isn’t a foreign-based security risk. He wants the organizations to conduct a national security and privacy investigation into FaceApp, according to a letter sent on Wednesday.
This isn’t the first time that the government has gotten involved because of a potential security risk with another country. Grindr has gone up for sale again because the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (or CFIUS) said that China-based Beijing Kunlun Tech Co Ltd’s ownership of Grindr is a national security risk.
BIG: Share if you used #FaceApp:
Because millions of Americans have used it
It’s owned by a Russia-based company
And users are required to provide full, irrevocable access to their personal photos & data pic.twitter.com/cejLLwBQcr
— Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) July 18, 2019
All that said, is FaceApp really as much of a problem as we’ve all made it out to be? No, says the company itself.
FaceApp released two separate statements to debunk the idea that they are selling users’ content (aka face pictures) to third parties or using them for sketchy projects like facial recognition software.
“99% of users don’t log in; therefore, we don’t have access to any data that could identify a person,” the company said in a statement cited by TechCrunch, adding that most images are deleted from “the cloud’s servers” within 48 hours of the upload date. In addition, users can request to have their data deleted.
The company also states that while the company’s research and development team is located in Russia, the user data is not transferred to Russia.
BREAKING: Most of your fears about Face App are bunkum. The app's developers have released a statement answering key questions pic.twitter.com/xj9AvEwVXC
— Chris Stokel-Walker (@stokel) July 17, 2019
So, should users breathe easy? Not really. While we can hope that the company isn’t using our data for international tech warfare, we can’t say for sure. The same goes for any rumors of behind the scenes projects or usage.
What we do know though is that the company slid the fact that photos weren’t being process on phones but on the cloud. In addition, it holds some pretty alarming right withdraws in its terms of service page.
As Guardian Firewall CEO Will Strafach told CBSNews, “Bottom line is they were handling sensitive data and they handled it cavalierly and that’s just not cool.”
So at the end of the day, this is a hard lesson on why it’s good to read the terms of service of any app, program, or product. We may not like it, it may be incredibly boring, but scanning through it, at the very least, is the best way to protect ourselves from situations like the FaceApp controversy.