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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.