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Russian Owned ‘FaceApp’ Draws Scrutiny over Privacy Policy

By Talbert Toole
Lifestyles Editor

Although it’s not a new application, the Russian owned “FaceApp” is drawing criticism and concern after re-emerging recently. The app amassed more than 80 million downloads in 2017, according to Forbes. 

The application has gained popularity among social media users by “aging” current pictures of themselves. Even celebrities have joined in on the challenge “#faceappchallenge,” such as Canadian rapper Drake and popular boy band the Jonas Brothers.

The Jonas Brothers after using the aging effect on the FaceApp.

However, now criticism is looming over the application due to its privacy policy and the fact it is owned by Wireless Lab based in St. Petersburg, Russia. The country has forced tension among the U.S. public and politicians for the country’s alleged interference in the 2016 elections and data mining through another social media application—Facebook.

Users must grant the Facebook application access to the cellphone’s photo library or camera. Joshua Nozzi, a software developer, raised concern over the issue after his initial reaction on July 15.

According to Nozzi’s website, the application automatically begins to upload users entire photo library. This is specifically to users with iOS technology. Nozzi noted that applications running on the iOS software do not need full access to a user’s entire photo library.

“In iOS, apps can invoke the system’s photo picker, a system-managed panel that lets users choose the images they wish to “give” to an app without granting it wholesale access to all your photos,” Nozzi stated.

More concern from Nozzi and other critics grew over the application’s privacy policy.

“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. When you post or otherwise share User Content on or through our Services, you understand that your User Content and any associated information (such as your [username], location or profile photo) will be visible to the public.”

Another concern Nozzi raised was the fact that the application automatically connects to the user’s Facebook account. Since the 2016 election, Facebook has been under scrutiny for alleged data mining. Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder, has even had to testify in front of Congress regarding the alleged mining of user data.

According to Forbes, a security researcher who goes by the pseudonym Elliot Alderson (real name Baptiste Robert) downloaded the app and checked where it was sending users’ faces. He found FaceApp only took submitted photos— those that the user wants the software to transform —back to its server.

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