How FaceApp Takes Your Image Rights and How to Get Them Back

How FaceApp Takes Your Image Rights and How to Get Them Back

The app swings into virality every now and again, but do people know what they’re signing up for?

In the past week, I’ve seen plenty of friends post pictures of them looking a touch elderly. It’s a pretty fun viral trend. In the corner of every image is a watermark, denoting that the FaceApp app was used. Honestly, it does an amazing job. I’m constantly stunned at how great the system works. It would take a very seasoned retoucher to get the same results in Photoshop. Apparently, FaceApp’s AI gets smarter with every user it interacts with.

Unfortunately, it looks like users are signing away their image rights here too. There may be serious privacy concerns; I’m not certain that data protection laws are actually protecting us from anything here.

Young chap to old chap. Images used with permission of Oisin O'Niell.

At a time when the United States is battling over the use of driver's license photos for law enforcement’s facial recognition, I would say that the average person does not want their photo to be stored and kept for other uses. Another story in the news recently was that Flickr photos with a Creative Commons copyright license were used to train IBM’s AI facial recognition bot. These faces were then made available to other research teams. It’s an uncomfortable thought that your face could be going through a research process.

As of Wednesday, the Democratic National Committee has warned 2020’s presidential campaign teams to avoid FaceApp. US Senator Chuck Schumer has requested that the FBI and FTC investigate possible breaches of privacy in a letter.

Checking FaceApp’s privacy statement, it looks like they haven’t suddenly updated it to reflect recent press. The dates on their documents hold true, although their CEO claims this week aren’t corroborated by their terms of service. So, let's dive in.

The Issues

Firstly, why are people getting up in arms over FaceApp? There has been a litany of problems raised in the past day or two, and while not everything is true, there’s still warranted worry. Here are the valid issues.

Vague Legalese

In their privacy statement, they claim that you shouldn’t worry about their company getting bought by an evil corporation (an affiliate) who might abuse your privacy. However, the line actually reads:

...these Affiliates will honor the choices you make about who can see your photos.

It’s not abundantly clear what choices you make about who can see your photos. You can grant the app access to your photos, and you can email the developers requesting they delete your data. That’s about it, unless I’m missing something.

Russian Servers

The DNC didn’t get on board the trend because they were concerned Bernie might look older, they’re concerned that hundreds of thousands of American citizens are having their mug shots sent across borders. It’s within the United State’s best interest to protect its citizens from privacy violations.

In FaceApp’s terms of use document, they mention:

By accessing or using our Services, you consent to the processing, transfe,r and storage of information about you in and to the United States and other countries, where you may not have the same rights and protections as you do under local law.

Not awfully reassuring. Yaroslav Goncharov, FaceApp’s CEO, has been doing damage control. He claims that images taken in the USA are stored on Amazon Web Servers in the USA. There’s no evidence to say this is true or false.

They’re Stealing Every Photo You’ve Ever Taken (False)

This is actually an issue with Apple. Users complained that even when FaceApp was denied permission to access the camera roll in iOS, they were still able to provide FaceApp with single images. This might defy logic to some, but apparently this feature is totally above board. So the app isn’t ignoring the denial, so much as it’s accessing another API after that denial.

Owning Your Image Rights

I’m sure a photographer will recognize this language from contracts and release forms. These legal terms are usually pretty harsh and make sure to be as clear cut as possible. However, the devil’s in the details.

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.

[...]

You grant FaceApp consent to use the User Content, regardless of whether it includes an individual’s name, likeness, voice or persona, sufficient to indicate the individual’s identity. By using the Services, you agree that the User Content may be used for commercial purposes.

[...]

and you hereby agree that FaceApp may place such advertising and promotions on the Services or on, about, or in conjunction with your User Content. The manner, mode and extent of such advertising and promotions are subject to change without specific notice to you. You acknowledge that we may not always identify paid services, sponsored content, or commercial communications as such.

That’s a lot to swallow, but it's fairly standard. In short, even though their CEO claims they get rid of “most” photos within 48 hours, they certainly don’t have to. They could use your image in a Super Bowl commercial, on a billboard, or beside advertisements in their app.

How does this compare to other social media apps? Well, a few years back, Snapchat was in hot water because users realized that they stored images on servers. They also had the FTC knocking on their door over privacy concerns and lack of security for user's images.

Does Instagram own your images? Not necessarily. The difference between Instagram and FaceApp is that the former doesn’t own your photos indefinitely. Instagram’s policy is that if you delete it, it’s gone. Here’s what they say exactly, bearing in mind that this is Facebook’s company:

We store data until it is no longer necessary to provide our services and Facebook Products, or until your account is deleted - whichever comes first.

[...]

You can end this license anytime by deleting your content or account. However, content will continue to appear if you shared it with others and they have not deleted it.


You've got to admire how good a job it does on Patrick.

How to Revoke Your Image Rights

While you can simply delete your image on Instagram, you can’t with FaceApp. In fact, their workaround appears to just be scraping by for Europe’s GDPR standards. They don’t make it easy.

You’ll basically need to send an email to their support team. In the app’s settings, find “Support” and then “Report a Bug.” From there, you’ll need to request in writing that your image be deleted from their servers and include the word “Privacy” in the subject line. Apparently, they’re working on updating this; however, I can’t imagine it will be front and center in the app.

Did you use FaceApp recently? Feel free to post your results below. Also, let us know if you’re requesting they delete your image.

All images used with permission.

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16 Comments

michaeljin's picture

Anyone who thinks that privacy regarding their face or location is somehow a thing in this day and age is deluded...

cameramanDop Shanghai Hong Kong's picture

I will be a bit disagree on that.
There is some part that you can't avoid and they are growing numbers of these. If you like to visit Russia at one point, they will have your face and print and a and and.. OK, agree.
Yes turning off you GPS remove the location tag on your picture, but the cell tower knows almost already where you are (the phone company and local authorities on request)

But on this particular case, no one force anyone to use this APP.

If you tell me like this:
"Use this app and your will feed AI recognition Russian database in exchange of a face of you older? (They will have your email/phone number/and picture as well as a possible link to your family members and close friend around you that you will share with your own phone)."

Are you willing to do so?

Are you also Ok with them using this database to sell it to whoever they want for any purpose (Commercial, Gov related,.. ) without you knowing it. And this record will be kept forever in these database?

Or it may be the right thing to spend 2mn doing something else instead?

So, here, it's still your choice to go mainstream.

michaeljin's picture

Even if you never upload your face, Google or Facebook probably can still identify you in the background of someone else's photograph. If you own an Android phone, you phone's operating system is designed by a company that collects data on you. Unless you've been living in a cave for the past 30 years, it's highly likely that your name, face, phone number, and people associated with you is out there to find. For most people, a simple search on an identity website will bring up name, phone, home address, and family members without any serious effort.

The question is not about whether your information is out there. It is whether you like it or not. The question is why you think anyone (whether it's a corporation or government) would care enough to look at YOUR personal information out of billions of a database of billions. If any individual, corporation, or government has even a modicum of interest in singling you out to delve into your personal life, you're screwed regardless of what you do. If not, then you're just another drop in an ocean of data and it really doesn't matter if a company knows that you prefer pizza to hamburgers or whether your sister graduated from Devry in 1997 because nobody is going to be looking.

I personally don't use this app because I don't care about it, but I use plenty of other apps that probably collect tons of information simply because they're functional and useful. Of course I would LOVE to have privacy, but like everyone else who has been using the internet for any length of time, companies have probably compiled quite a bit of data on me and once it's out in the wild, it's not coming back. Sure, you could choose to drop off the grid today, but that would be quite inconvenient in exchange for cutting off the flow of NEW information (they still probably have all of your family members and stuff by now).

Rob Mitchell's picture

My timelines are full of sheep who feel the need to use it. The next trending thing will be along shortly I guess.

Just about everything we do or touch lately has a potential to be an invasion of privacy, there's no escaping it, even when you're not playing with this app.

Simon Patterson's picture

Does anyone know what they've agreed to by putting their likeness in the Fstoppers comments, or on Facebook? It doesn't actually matter anyway - once it is uploaded, it can be snaffled, stored and used by anyone.

michaeljin's picture

I'm not a particular fan of the loss of privacy, but I think that it's just a lost cause at this point so might as well just enjoy the stuff that we're paying for anyway. That genie ain't ever going back in the bottle...

"...they were concerned Bernie might look older..."

Bernie actually used the app and thought it was broken because he looked the same.

lee arthur's picture

I have been using computers since the early to mid 80s. One thing I learned early on is there is no such thing as cyber- privacy. Once something is placed online, it is there for good. If someone wants to find it, they can and will.

Patrick Hall's picture

It’s funny you say that because just today I got a message from a friend of ours who used to be a swimwear model. She asked me how I could go about asking photographers to remove her images from their Instagram and websites because many of her new corporate corworkes, bosses, and potential new employers have googled her and mentioned the photos. Some are super high end and some are kind of tasteless but I basically told her, once it’s online it’s online forever.

Is it me or does Patrick look just like and old Neil Diamond?

michaeljin's picture

Now that you mention it...

user-206807's picture

I prefer to be in the Russian database of AI recognition than in the American one.
Oh, I'm not in the Russian one, but I've been in the American one for years…

Stas Aleksandersson's picture

Damn definitely bad news for me since I really wanted to keep the ownership of my selfies.

the FBI dont Spy on you at all right? but this is a problem?

Studio 403's picture

Here she is, my first aged one, he he