Let’s Face it, FaceApp is Practically Harmless

Serena Yeh, Staff Writer

FaceApp, the photo editing app ubiquitous for the age filters that make you look older has grown in popularity over the past few years. However, after the news came out that FaceApp was based in Russia, the FBI have warned users against downloading the app on their smartphones for fear of Russians “access[ing] communications directly via internet service providers,” according to Forbes. However, upon closer review, users have no basis for worrying. People should exercise some caution while uploading pictures to FaceApp and similar apps but don’t have much to worry about because there has not been any evidence that these apps have the ability to do any harm to your identity or your peace of mind.

When you use apps like FaceApp, the photo is edited by neural networks and uploaded to the cloud. The company sends that photograph into its cloud, and it stays in the cloud for only a certain amount of time before being deleted, or it could be stored temporarily because of “performance and traffic” (TechCrunch). Because the app is Russian, people tend to believe that their phone’s data, including photos, will be stolen because of the negative connotations surrounding Russian hackers and their supposed role in American affairs. To trace where FaceApp sends photos submitted on the app, cybersecurity expert Will Strafach, founder of an iOS security app, tracked where a few of the photos actually went and whether FaceApp took other photos that were not submitted to the app (Forbes). Strafach found that the only photos backed up to FaceApp were the photos that were deliberately submitted for photo editing, showing that FaceApp does not upload the photo to an outside server for exporting outside the app or take photos from a user’s photo album that were not submitted to the app, at least in this case.

Additionally, the photos that were backed up by FaceApp were not sent to Russia but were instead uploaded to Amazon data centers in the United States. His findings were consistent with the company’s statement, which stated that, “Even though the core R&D team is located in Russia, the user data is not transferred to Russia.” Another issue brought up continuously by media was FaceApp’s terms and agreements policy, but the permissions they ask for are sensible, given that it is a photo editing app. They ask for access to your camera, storage, and a couple other permissions, including “full network access, Google Play billing services, [and] run at startup.” These few app permissions pale in comparison to Meitu, a China-based photo editing app, which according to Wired, has access to your location and “personal identifiers that could be used to track you and your device across the web.” FaceApp seems to be the more reserved app in this scenario. Given the worse case scenario where FaceApp steals your photo, what can a company do with a picture? They can take it and keep it in their cloud forever, but what’s the absolute worst that can happen? When Google realized that some photo apps on the Play Store stole users’ photos, they removed the apps so they could no longer be downloaded (Engadget). If FaceApp was stealing pictures, Google and Apple will most likely repeat this action and pull FaceApp from its app stores. Additionally, considering the fact that there are 86 million users, there is such a small chance of anything bad happening that you might as well not worry at all (Business Insider).

Have you seen the headline, “Student Found Murdered after Uploading Photo to FaceApp”? Have you seen the article titled, “Life Ruined after Downloading Russian App”? How about, “FaceApp Leads to Millions of Users’ Identities Stolen”? No? That’s because they aren’t real. Faceapp users are given well-meaning warnings, but the current paranoia surrounding the app is unfounded. Only time will tell if FaceApp will take advantage of the permissions you give them, but for now, you’re safe to see how you look in fifty years.