FaceApp sparks concerns over privacy policy, Russian roots

Justin Chan

A popular mobile app that allows users to edit their selfies to appear older (or even younger) has spurred security concerns and raised alarms over its Russian origins.

FaceApp, which has more than 80 million users, employs artificial intelligence to transform a person's appearance "with just one tap." In recent weeks such celebrities as Drake and the Jonas Brothers have hopped on Instagram to share pictures of what they'd look like in their golden years.

And yet the many users who have posted these altered images on social media may not be aware that they've already shared much more than just their photos — or that the company that owns the app is based in Russia, which was recently tied to a large-scale hack that stole millions of Bulgarians' data

According to FaceApp's privacy policy, the company uses third-party analytic tools that collect information from a user's device, "including the web pages you visit, add-ons, and other information that assists us in improving the Service." It can also "remotely store one or more 'device identifiers,'" which it defines as small data files that "uniquely identify your mobile device."

Celebrities share older versions of themselves after using FaceApp: 

Even more troubling is the fact that the company can use an individual's likeness, name, voice or even persona for commercial purposes, in conjunction with other businesses. Per FaceApp's terms and conditions, anybody who willingly uses the app also agrees (perhaps unknowingly) that its use of his or her likeness "will not result in any injury to you or to any person you authorized to act on its behalf."

"It's a Russian company, so once you grant access, you are granting access to all of those companies," ABC News chief business correspondent Rebecca Jarvis explained on Good Morning America.

While FaceApp states that it uses "commercially reasonable safeguards" to protect the information it collects, it also points out that it "cannot ensure the security of any information you transmit to FaceApp or guarantee that information on the Service may not be accessed, disclosed, altered, or destroyed."

In response to growing unease over the company's policy, FaceApp told TechCrunch that it does not, in fact, sell or share data with third parties. It also pointed out that, although the company's research-and-development team is based in Russia, the data it gathers does not get transferred there.

"Additionally, we'd like to comment on one of the most common concerns: All pictures from the gallery are uploaded to our servers after a user grants access to the photos," FaceApp said in a statement. "We don’t do that. We upload only a photo selected for editing."