Saying No To Faceapp Is Common Sense. Why Are We Saying Yes?

I woke up, poured some coffee and, as I often do each morning, checked Twitter. There, among the headlines, were faces. Old faces, young faces, weird faces. Altered faces of friends, colleagues and strangers, all of them using FaceApp, the latest viral trend. God forbid we miss out on any of those.


"Why on earth are you still tweeting FaceApp pics?" I asked one of them. This person, a tech writer I think highly of, explained that some of the people they like the most who cover questions of future surveillance seemed to think that privacy issues with FaceApp are overblown.


Are they? FaceApp's privacy policy makes it clear that the app pulls data like your location, IP address and log file information for the purpose of aiming targeted ads at you. With data like that, advertisers could aim ads at users in specific regions, for instance.


"We may also share certain information such as cookie data with third-party advertising partners," the policy reads. "This information would allow third-party ad networks to, among other things, deliver targeted advertisements that they believe will be of most interest to you."


Targeted ads aren't anything new, of course -- and neither is FaceApp, which has been around for two years now. Aviran Hazum, head of Analysis and Response at the security research firm Check Point Research, tells CNET that he didn't find anything out of the ordinary when he took a closer look at how FaceApp works.


"This app seems to be developed in a good fashion," Hazum writes. "No greedy permissions, and it does what they claim it does."


But now, FaceApp is going viral once more, with millions of people downloading it in order to participate in an internet craze. And it's hard to blame them -- the tech is scarily good. Who wouldn't want to see and share a stunning representation of what they might look like in 30 years?


I know I was tempted. After all, ads are already targeted at me every day because of products and services I already willingly use. What's the harm in a few more of those ads if I'm getting to try out some cutting-edge tech in the process?


But I read that privacy policy before downloading the app, and it gave me a lot of pause. Then, I saw FaceApp's terms of service, which include the following:


"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."


A reminder that terms like these aren't written for your benefit. They're written to cover potential legal liabilities while sharing as little as possible about what a company is actually doing with your data -- and I'd add that you can find similar catchalls in the terms and conditions for apps and services like Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat. You click accept without reading, and the company can say, "it's not our fault, you were warned."


And in this case, we were. We've known that FaceApp is controversial for some time now. We know that facial recognition is troubling and that deepfake technology can be used to create stunningly realistic videos of a person using nothing more than a single image of their face.


"Privacy invasions often sneak in through 'fun' disguises," CNET cybersecurity and privacy reporter Alfred Ng tells me, pointing out that Cambridge Analytica got all the data it needed using quirky personality quizzes. "It's important for people not to fall for these traps. It's like Hansel and Gretel and the candy house."


We also know that FaceApp is a Russian company, and that Russian intelligence weaponized social media in order to spread propaganda during the 2016 US presidential election. Prominent Democrats and Republicans say that FaceApp is a cause for concern that merits further scrutiny. I don't advocate hysteria, and I don't think that anyone should automatically assume that an app or service is nefarious simply because it's based out of Moscow -- but I do support skepticism. Perhaps we ought to take heed.





RY Crist



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