Thank You, FaceApp!

Were you aware of FaceApp? It was a suddenly popular mobile face-editing application for your smartphone that would take your photo and show how might age over the next half century. It was all the wave, until there was a contemporaneous story about law enforcement going into facial recognition software big time. Oh oh…”Minority Report”! Suddenly someone read the app’s privacy policy. The company was based in Russia! It could sell your face to be used in subway gonorrhea ads, and there was nothing you could do about it! The Democratic National Committee freaked, and sent out an alert imploring those who work on presidential campaigns to delete the app from their phones because FaceApp’s creator, Wireless Lab, is based in St. Petersburg, Russia. Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer then went overboard, as Chuck is wont to do, and demanded that FBI and the Federal Trade Commission  investigate FaceApp, because the company could pose “national security and privacy risks for millions of U.S. citizens.”


The app’s creators rushed to contain the damage. FaceApp’s CEO swore that the company’s servers are not based in Russia,  that no user data is sent there, the photos will not end up in  facial recognition databases.  FaceApp does not, it is told, “sell or share any user data with any third parties.”

Google also swears that it won’t read our email. And don’t get me started about Facebook…

FaceApp’s privacy policy asks for “irrevocable, nonexclusive, royalty-free, worldwide, fully paid, transferable sub-licensable license” for the pictures of your face. That should set off ethics alarms, or better yet, privacy alarms, for anyone who reads it, which means virtually nobody. I’m hardly any better: many years ago I used a Simpsons app to convert my photo into Simpsons Jack…

…and never considered what rights I might be surrendering. Well, I’m a moron.

When you talk to Siri, everything you say is harvested. When you use DropBox or Googledocs, the material you deposit also belongs to the cloud owner.  FaceApp isn’t some shocking Orwellian device,  but cyber-business as usual. Most online apps, platforms and services have  overly long, complex, user agreements and  privacy policies.

They are written by lawyers specifically to discourage consumers from informing themselves and giving informed consent, and I tell my legal ethics seminars that I consider such practices unethical….because they are, even though no bar association would ever impose discipline.

In a nice bit of irony, even lawyers don’t read those agreements. Then the apps sending send their data, which may include their location, photos, confidential communications and more  to ad networks, data brokersClose Xand other massive technology companies.

What does it take to get those of us who allow ourselves to be completely reliant on technology for communication, relationships, and entertainment to be responsible about what such dependence entails? Apparently not the alarms we’ve experienced so far. I’ve lost track: was Marriott the latest company to have massive data breach that exposed its trusting customers to malign agents? EquaFax, the Office of Personnel Management, Target, Wells Fargo…however many there have been, there will be more, and worse—count on it.

In legal ethics, the American Bar Association is directing lawyers to make sure they understand the technology they are using, while also telling them that not using technology isn’t an ethical option. These edicts, it appears to me, are written by people who themselves don’t understand the technologies their are making rules about.

The FaceApp freakout was over a relatively harmless example of potentially perilous technology, but if it gets people to think about being so dependent on instrumentality they don’t understand, owned and operated by entities they don’t know or have reason to trust, with agendas, goals and motives that they can’t possibly discern, then good. It has come on in a rush, but understanding our technologies has become a critical part of life competence.

So thanks, FaceApp, for scaring people! Maybe now they’ll think before they text, post, click, share or link.



Sources: New York Times 1, 2, 3

9 thoughts on “Thank You, FaceApp!

  1. Actually, one of the first conditions in many EULA is that irrevocable license for fully paid up license to use your stuff.

    When I see that I typically delete the download or uninstall the app. I don’t want “free” apps that are hardly free.

    There is no such thing as a free lunch. Everything has a cost. So the sooner we understand that the better off we all will be.

    • I’d like to see a screen in which the end user must check a box for each condition before they can install.

      Imagine this
      I understand that the provider will be allowed, without cost, to use any any and all personal images, data or familial information.

      I understand that the provider has no responsibility for how your data is used or misused after being sold to a third party.

      Not legalese but it basically covers the relevant parts of a typical EULA.

  2. I wonder how many of your readers just rushed to put your available photos through the FaceApp grinder? What happens when a 3rd party who doesn’t have the right to assign rights uploads a photo?

    • Fire and the sword!

      I wouldn’t mind if a third party I could sue would get me one of those cool Simpsons caricatures though, honestly.

  3. I never use these latest craze Facebook apps or do any of the quizzes for this reason.

    …and it’s so frustrating because I have to figure out by myself which cartoon dog I am.

  4. People who want to tell you all about your ancestry are as bad or worse. You give them your DNA and literally ANYBODY can say they are you and get a copy, including your local police.

    • I believe these outfits claiming to identify your ancestry from DNA is a scam. Most human DNA is shared anyway. Differences that do arise result from the intersection of of the genetic patterns of 23 chromosomes each parent provides.
      Simply because a pattern of recessive alleles exists does not create a familial relationship. Furthermore, one would need a comparasion sample anyway to do such analysis. Where is the DNA bank that such samples are stored.

      Unless there is 100 % inbreeding the probability of familial relationships drops exponentially through successive generations. If you knew there was 100 % inbreeding you would need neither a test to confirm or the mindset to check.

      This opinion is based on my understanding of genetics which is limited to 8 credits in Biology and personal reading.

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