You’ve probably seen pictures popping up of people sharing what they would look like if they were much older, or had some sort of crazy facial hair, or a member of the opposite gender. From celebrities such as Stephen Colbert and Drake, there are thousands of people taking on the “FaceApp Challenge.” Perhaps you have even done it yourself.
However, while it seems like the FaceApp Challenge is just a fun way to speculate on how ruthless father time might be to us, or what we would look like with a fabulous beard, or even how attractive we might be as the opposite gender, experts are warning it could be a far more sinister way to mine our private data.
According to experts, FaceApp includes a clause in their terms and services—you know, that long list of things no one ever reads—that stipulates by accepting their terms, you give them permission to share your photos and other data with third parties.
Ann Cavoukian, Global Privacy and Security by Design Centre’s executive director warns that your face is one of the most sensitive forms of information you have. “You don’t want this compromised and used in ways that you never intended,” she says.
In addition to granting permission for FaceApp to share their facial images with third parties, users also grant permission for the company to use images of their face for commercial purposes; the terms of service indicate the company might sell assets, including user data, to third-party companies, as well as sharing said data with affiliated companies.
Associate Editor of Surveillance & Society and Assistant Professor at the University of Waterloo, Jennifer Whitson, says the reason Apps include clauses like this in their terms and service isn’t necessarily because they plan on using your data right away, but rather, they believe it will become useful and therefore valuable in the future.
“What they do is they collect it all, as much as they can gather and store it, because storage is cheap, and hope that they can figure out some way in the future of how they can use it to make them rich,” Whitson says.
She also cautions users to be mindful of the fact that free apps have to make money in some capacity.
According to Yaroslav Goncharov, the Russian developer of the app, the company doesn’t sell user’s data to third parties.
Goncharov claims the company only uploads pictures that users choose to edit to the cloud, but they never upload separate photos.
Goncharov also claims the majority of photos saved to the cloud are deleted after two days. Additionally, the app can be used anonymously without requiring users to login in order to avoid giving them personal information.
According to Goncharov, none of the data is sent to Russia, and users can request that all of their data be deleted (however, he said the support team is currently overloaded, which could cause a delay).