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Why the ‘aging challenge’ might come back to haunt FaceApp users

July 17, 201911:59 am
Updated:July 17, 20193:23 pm
By Josh K. Elliott Senior National Online Journalist, Viral/Trends Global News

WATCH: The app comes with a few surprises some users may not know about.

An AI-run aging feature is breathing new life into the old FaceApp application, but experts warn the viral trend could put your personal privacy at risk.

FaceApp first hit the market in 2017, but the app is enjoying a renaissance thanks to an update that allows users to artificially age themselves in photos. The free-to-download app uploads your photo to a remote server that uses artificial intelligence to predict your future appearance. It can also make several adjustments to your appearance, such as adding a smile or some hair.

READ MORE: Canadian couple shamed for kissing behind dead lion in safari photo

Thousands of people have been sharing their own artificially-aged images on social media, including celebrities like Drake, the Jonas Brothers and Gordon Ramsay.

View this post on Instagram

Best caption wins ovo tickets

A post shared by champagnepapi (@champagnepapi) on Jul 16, 2019 at 1:36am PDT

When you take a trip to the Year 3000.

— Jonas Brothers (@jonasbrothers) July 16, 2019

Me hosting #MasterChef Season 50……

— Gordon Ramsay (@GordonRamsay) July 16, 2019

Not sure what is more annoying. The old age app. People annoyed with the old age app. Or being annoyed by people who are annoyed by the old age app. Either way, here it is.

— Tom Green (@tomgreenlive) July 17, 2019

Old Town Road singer Lil Nas X also shared a photo of his “older” self.

View this post on Instagram

feeling cute might delete later 😌

A post shared by Lil Nas X (@lilnasx) on Jul 16, 2019 at 1:35pm PDT

However, the app comes with a few potentially nasty surprises, including a user agreement that gives the Russia-based developer, Wireless Labs, control over everything you upload to the app forever. Yes, forever.

“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,” the terms of service say.

FaceApp’s privacy policy shows that it also uses third-party tools to collect large amounts of data from your device, “including the web pages you visit, add-ons, and other information that assists us in improving the Service.”

The developer also says it may continue to store your uploaded content even after you’ve deleted it.

READ MORE: Google's museum selfie app raises questions about data use

In other words, FaceApp can do whatever it wants with your photos and your username, including using them to make money through advertising until the end of time. It also means that FaceApp can advertise using the face of any celebrity who uploaded his or her photo to the app.

“Super worth trading all your personal information to a Russian company for the opportunity to turn your face 20 years older,” comedian Roy White III tweeted on Wednesday. “What a deal!!”

Super worth trading all your personal information to a Russian company for the opportunity to turn your face 20 years older. What a deal!!

— Roy White III (@RDubThree) July 17, 2019

FaceApp founder Yaroslav Goncharov says his company doesn’t sell or share user data with any third parties.

“We might store an uploaded photo in the cloud. The main reason for that is performance and traffic: we want to make sure that the user doesn’t upload the photo repeatedly for every edit operation,” Goncharov said in a statement to PEOPLE. “Most images are deleted from our servers within 48 hours from the upload date.”

The app has also sparked concern amid accusations that it’s uploading entire photo libraries to the developer’s server. However, several independent developers say their tests show this is not the case.

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“No, they are not uploading your photos to their server,” French cybersecurity expert Robert Baptiste tweeted on Wednesday. “They upload only the photo you are working on.”

Baptiste goes by the screen name Elliot Alderson, a nod to the hacker character in the show Mr. Robot.

The press coverage of this #FaceApp story is out of control, let me repeat it:

No, they are not uploading your photos to their server. They upload only the photo you are working on.

Also, the fact that developers are Russian doesn't prove anything…

— Elliot Alderson (@fs0c131y) July 17, 2019

Baptiste adds that the company’s server appears to be based in the United States, and there is no indication that the data is being used for nefarious purposes.

“For now there is no reason to panic, Russia is not trying to steal people’s faces,” he tweeted.

READ MORE: Instagram users urged to stop taking selfies in toxic Russian pond

Will Strafach, who runs the iPhone security app The Guardian iOS, says he tested the FaceApp and saw no evidence that it was uploading entire photo libraries.

“I did not see the reported activity occur,” he tweeted. However, he says the app does appear to “upload single images in order to apply the filters server-side.”

Strafach tweeted that such behaviour is not as egregious, but it is “non-obvious and I am sure many folks are not cool with that.”

HOWEVER: they do appear to upload single images in order to apply the filters server-side. while not as egregious, this is non-obvious and I am sure many folks are not cool with that.

— Will Strafach (@chronic) July 17, 2019

“We only upload a photo selected by a user for editing,” Goncharov told PEOPLE. “We never transfer any other images from the phone to the cloud.”

FaceApp launched in early 2017 with a variety of image-modification features, including the ability to alter eye colour, hair or a person’s expression.

The app can also be used through Facebook.

FaceApp is currently the No. 1 photo and video app on the App store with nearly 30,000 ratings.

It was trending on Wednesday under the hashtag #FaceAppChallenge. However, many of the tweets were from critics sharing screenshots of FaceApp’s terms of service.

“It’s all fun and games until your data gets exposed,” user Antonio Becerra tweeted.

Follow @JoshKElliott

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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