FaceApp, the photo editing application made famous a few years ago for essentially allowing you to perform digital blackface, is back in the mainstream – and so are all the privacy issues that come with it.
The Russian-backed app has gone viral again in recent weeks, driven by its incredibly compelling filter which makes you look very old. Everyone’s doing it! Celebrities! Influencers! The NFL! Ever wondered what you’d look like if you somehow manage to survive catastrophic climate change? Wait no longer.
OMJ. Old man Jonas. pic.twitter.com/hPTDTkY601
— Nick Jonas (@nickjonas) July 17, 2019
Of course, all of this is insanely funny until you read the app’s terms and conditions, which is something I never do because I genuinely prefer to spend my time mindlessly refreshing my Twitter feed, begging for the sweet release of social media-induced dopamine.
Here’s one of the more thrilling parts of the long screed my editor made me read (in full!) A warning: if you’ve spent the whole day laughing and partaking in ballyhoo with your friends over the hilarious, photoshopped old versions of yourself, you might want to look away and just act like all of this never happened.
According to the Terms and Conditions under “User Content”, you agree to the following when you use FaceApp’s machine learning thingo:
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. When you post or otherwise share User Content on or through our Services, you understand that your User Content and any associated information (such as your [username], location or profile photo) will be visible to the public.
I was going to bold the most devastating moments in that paragraph but realised halfway through that I was just highlighting everything, like a uni student trying to look like they’re paying attention in a lecture.
As pointed out in a pretty exhaustive report here by TechCrunch, FaceApp uploads your photo to the cloud. Back when FaceApp first entered our consciousness, privacy expert (and chair of the Australian Privacy Foundation!!!) David Vaile told the ABC the company behind the app, Wireless Lab, asked for “way more rights than they need to offer the service to you.”
“They can remove the data from any effective legal protection regime, share it with almost anyone, and retain it indefinitely,” said Vaile.
“It is impossible to tell from this what happens when you upload it, that is the problem. The license is so lax. They can claim you agree they can send to wherever they like to whoever they like, and so long as there is some connection, [they can] do a lot of things with it.”
I went ahead and asked the lawyers who work for the company that owns us to see what they have to say on the whole matter. They said I am essentially very smart and correct, in that the clause is very broadly worded. They also noted that FaceApp could use “User Content” for commercial purposes. So cool.
FaceApp’s terms and conditions state that anyone with copyright complaints should contact Yaroslav Goncharov, who appears to be the CEO of FaceApp.
There’s also been a fair amount of weird xenophobia around the app that I just want to flag head on, too. Just because it’s Russian doesn’t mean it’s evil, folks. The same tropes have been marched out around TikTok and its Chinese ownership. And I get it, the internet is scary. But Facebook – an American company – was started by a college student dropout who wanted to rate his classmates by hotness and then went on to commit one of (if not the) largest data scandals in history. The company was just fined $5 billion! So that’s fun.
So yes, you may have given a random tech company access to your personal info and photos today because you wanted to see what you’d look like if you were old. But chances are plenty of other tech companies already have that info, too. Not that you shouldn’t care.
Stay safe out there, friends.