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Amy Iverson: Russia’s FaceApp now owns photos of me — and I don’t care

SHARE Amy Iverson: Russia’s FaceApp now owns photos of me — and I don’t care

FaceApp transforms any face using artificial intelligence. It can add glasses or facial hair, or make someone look years younger or older. And photos of elderly versions of my friends dominated my social media feeds last week. While no one is sure what made the app released in 2017 go viral overnight, everyone from “Fixer Upper’s” Joanna Gaines to my neighbor down the street was posting photos of themselves as senior citizens.

The results are super realistic by adding gray hair, wrinkles and just enough sun damage to make you wear sunscreen for the rest of your life. And sharing those photos on social media doubles the fun as you experience everyone else’s reaction to your aged self.

Then the privacy concerns kicked in and we saw headlines saying “FaceApp is a privacy nightmare” and “Russians now own all your old photos.” One of these headlines is true. We know the second headline is false because of a statement FaceApp sent to TechCrunch addressing some of the privacy concerns. Among its responses, FaceApp wrote that it only uploads the photo(s) selected by users for editing — not your entire camera roll — and that it deletes most images within 48 hours.

FaceApp transforms your face using artificial intelligence.

FaceApp transforms your face using artificial intelligence.

Amy Iverson, FaceApp

The first headline, though, is right on the money. FaceApp’s terms of use include a bunch of confusing legalese that grants the company a lot of privileges. But such language is not unique to this app. Other apps you likely have on your phone right now have similar terms of agreement, but I’m guessing most people never read through those either.

I think one big difference here is that FaceApp’s developers are based in Russia and Americans are a bit skittish after special counsel Robert Mueller confirmed Russia interfered with the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Indeed, Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer is asking the Federal Bureau of Investigation to look into the app to see if U.S. citizens’ privacy could be at risk because the developer is based in Russia.

In that same statement to TechCrunch, FaceApp says it does not transfer any data to Russia and that it doesn’t sell or share any user data with third parties. That sounds great, but the app’s privacy policy does say it may share user data with businesses that are part of the same group of companies that FaceApp is part of or that become part of that group. That sounds pretty open-ended.

While FaceApp doesn’t claim ownership of your content, any text, photo or video you create using the app is now fair game for the app to use any way it desires forever. That could include your name and email if you offered it up when you used the app. I didn’t and it isn’t required.

If this sounds scary, you must not have read through Twitter’s terms of service which say something very similar to FaceApp’s. It grants the company license to “use, copy, reproduce, process, adapt, modify, publish, transmit, display and distribute such Content in any and all media or distribution methods (now known or later developed).”

Also, Facebook’s terms of service say that anything you share, post or upload is up for grabs by the company to store, copy and share with others.

The results of the aging filter seem creepily accurate.

The results of the aging filter seem creepily accurate.

Amy Iverson, FaceApp

Doesn't make your privacy feel super safe, does it?

After I posted my horrifying aging transformation on Instagram, a conscientious friend texted me the Forbes article claiming FaceApp now has access to more than 150 million people’s faces and names. I did use the app’s filters on about five photos of me, my husband and a couple of friends, so I contributed to that total.

But after reading the terms of service for many apps, I’m not any more concerned about my privacy from using this app than I am from using Facebook or Twitter. And I guess I’ll have to live with the possibility that some partner company of FaceApp could use my photos for commercial purposes. If my face ends up on advertisements for Russian matryoshka dolls, so be it. By using nearly any social media network, we relinquish some rights to that content and our privacy. It’s the cost we pay for the benefits of using the platforms.

I use social media and very much value the opportunity to stay in touch with friends, be entertained and use my local Facebook classifieds group. I made the conscious decision that the positives are worth handing over a bit of privacy to the social media companies that make it all possible.

The FaceApp and the laughs I got from it brought me a lot of joy over the past week. Was it worth granting the company permission to a handful of photos in my camera roll? I think so.