Fans of FaceApp might want to reconsider using the popular smartphone app after a U.S. lawmaker raised concerns about potential privacy and security issues.
In a letter sent to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Federal Trade Commission, U.S. Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer urged both agencies to look into the threat posed by FaceApp on the privacy of individual Americans, as well as on national security as a whole.
Privacy And Security Concerns
FaceApp is a free photo-editing software for iPhone and Android devices. It uses AI to digitally alter images that have been uploaded to it. While the app has been around since 2017, it recently gained newfound popularity courtesy of a new filter that ages the faces of users.
However, Sen. Schumer does not think FaceApp is as harmless as it appears. He said the app asks people to provide full and irrevocable access to their photos and data before they could use it. According to the senator, this exposes millions of Americans to "national security and privacy risks."
Meanwhile, the Democratic National Committee also sent out an advisory to its party members regarding FaceApp. The group told its 2020 presidential candidates not to use the app, citing its Russian background.
Bob Lord, security chief for the committee, reportedly told organizers for Democratic presidential campaigns to delete FaceApp from their devices if they had already used it.
Is FaceApp A Cybersecurity Threat?
Despite politicians' claims, there is no evidence to suggest that FaceApp does pass on users' private data to the Russian government so far.
When one internet users posted about the app's tendency to upload photos without owners' permission, French security researcher Elliot Alderson investigated the matter.
He told The Guardian that he scanned the app and found that it only uploaded the photo that was modified using it. It did not access any of the other photos in the device.
Alderson added that he did not find any proof that FaceApp steals private data from users. The app only requires the user's device ID and device model, which is something that most other apps do as well. He theorizes that the app is getting such a bad reputation likely because it was developed in Russia.
FaceApp is the product of St. Petersburg-based app developer Wireless Lab. The company currently has more than 80 million active users, if its website profile is to be believed. It is headed by Yaroslav Goncharov, a former executive at Yandex, which has been dubbed "Russia's Google".
For its part, FaceApp responded to accusations that it steals people's photos.
In a statement to tech website 9to5Mac, the developers admitted that the app "might store" uploaded photos in the cloud, but this was for performance and traffic reasons. They said they did not want to have users upload images repeatedly every time they used the app. Most of the photos are deleted from FaceApp's servers without 48 hours from the time they were uploaded.
The FaceApp makers explained that most of the photo editing process is conducted in the cloud. The app only uploads images selected by users for editing and does not transfer any other photos from devices to the cloud.
The company also clarified that while the core research and development team of FaceApp is based in Russia, they do not transfer any user data to the country.