#AgeChallenge went viral earlier this month, as celebrities and online users began using an app called FaceApp to age normal photos of themselves to post online. Several days later, online users raised alarm as many claimed the app was created by Russians who “owned” all the photos on your phone once the app was downloaded and used.
The rumors began with a sofware developer on Twitter, who claimed the app was uploading every photo on a user’s phone, whether they used the app to edit the photo or not. Panic grew, and eventually Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer asked the FBI to invesigate.
What has been of greater concern to critics is FaceApp’s statements that “most” images are deleted after 48 hours without offering any proof of this fact. There is also no evidence that the company has adequate cybersecurity to protect any collected data from being hacked.
In the wake of the election-hacking scandal that follwoed the presidental election betweeen Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, many Americans are sensitive to any allegations of Russian interference with technology. Adding fuel to the fire is the United States’ lack of clear data-privacy legislation.
While FaceApp maintains that it doesn’t sell or share any user data with any third parties, other apps have been revealed to use user data in unsavory ways. Ever, a photo-album app, was found to use vacation photos and selfies to enhance software used by D.O.D. military drones. Clarifai, another computer-vision app, partnered with the military and took profile pictures from OKCupid to build software that can infer race and sex from detected faces.
The rise of these viral apps are uncovering important issues about the lack of data privacy in the United States. Congress is working on drafting data-privacy legislation, which already exists in many European countries. And many individuals have started to take a better look at the long-winded user agreements and privacy policies they usually would skim over before hitting ‘I Accept’.