FaceApp: Everything you need to know about this fun, controversial app

Unless you have recently avoided the Internet, you are probably familiar with the app called FaceApp. The app has been around for a while, but the downloads have increased exponentially thanks to social media. Many people have used it to change their images to make them look older, younger, or even the s*xes.

The sudden viral interest in FaceApp began earlier this month as celebrities with large audiences on social media began using the app to publish images of themselves. Now that FaceApp has reached its greatest popularity, many people have questions about whether the app is secure and what the developer is doing with your data.

What is FaceApp?

FaceApp was developed by a company based in Russia called Wireless Lab. The free app was first launched to iOS in January 2017 and was an instant success and got over a million downloads in the first two weeks. FaceApp for Android was launched in February 2017.

The app uses AI filters that can be used to edit images to make older users look younger or even change sex. It can also handle more subtle changes in an image, such as changing a person's hairstyle, adding a smile or applying makeup or tattoos to a face.

While the app is free, it displays ad banners. It also inserts a watermark on all images modified with FaceApp. If you want to get rid of the watermark, delete banner ads, or access more features, you can sign up for FaceApp Pro, which costs $ 19.99 a year.

Why has FaceApp suddenly become very popular?

FaceApp has already been downloaded tens of thousands of times since its launch, but has been extremely popular in recent weeks. The rise in the app's popularity probably has a lot to do with celebrities using FaceApp. Pop artists such as Drake and Jonas Brothers, athletes such as LeBron James and actors such as Zachary Levi are part of the FaceApp trend.

The result is a huge increase in downloads for FaceApp. The research company Sensor Tower (through Business Insider) concludes that in mid-June FaceApp added about 65,000 new users a day. This is enough for any app. But since the use of FaceApp has become viral, it has added 1.8 million users a day. In fact, the app has been downloaded over 12.7 million times since July 10.

Does FaceApp violate my privacy and my data?

Because FaceApp has become so popular, many people have decided to check its terms of service. Officially, the terms indicate that the company behind FaceApp is entitled to use any photo modified by the app for commercial purposes. In addition, all collected user data can still be stored on company servers even if you decide to delete the app from the phone. If you want to completely erase your data, you can access the app and ask the company to do so, but it's not exactly an easy process.

There is also concern for the company behind the application in Russia, and user data could be sold to the Russian government. This opportunity led Senate's minority leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) to send a letter to the FBI and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Senator Schumer asked the agencies to review FaceApp and argued that they were concerned about "how and when the company gives third parties access to US citizens, including foreign governments".

The National Democratic Committee (DNC) suffered an attack on its computer network in 2015 and 2016, and the US government believes Russian intelligence forces are behind these attacks. For this reason, CNN stated that DNC ​​requested all its 2020 campaigns not to use FaceApp.

A spokesman for FaceApp, in turn, told TechCrunch that it does not sell or share user data with third parties and does not transfer user data to Russia. He also said that the company deletes images from its servers within 48 hours of upload and does not upload images other than those selected for editing. Finally, FaceApp uses US companies AWS and Google Cloud for cloud storage and management.

Do you need to download FaceApp?

You should read the terms of service before downloading an app on your smartphone. Officially, FaceApp does not claim to sell the data or information on the photos that the app collects to anyone, including the Russian government. However, it is certainly understandable that the US Democratic Party may have reasons to doubt it, given what has happened in recent years. Keep in mind that the app has also been available for over two years before it suddenly falls short of popularity and there are no indications of security risks.

In the end, your decision is whether to download FaceApp. Although there have been some confidentiality issues, it appears that FaceApp does not offer greater risks than a similar AI-based photo editing app. On the other hand, the use of any type of app that accesses an external server and accesses and stores your data may result in such information being taken by external forces such as cyber criminals. The choice is yours.