Every few years, digital photo gimmick app FaceApp finds a way to return to the public consciousness with a new round of “here’s what I’d look like if I was old/young/a different gender…” hijinks. The app’s prowess can be pretty uncanny and its aging illusions are particularly deft, if you’d like a little hypothetical peak into the future. And while the basic version of the app is free, it does come with a pretty wild cost buried in its Terms and Service agreement.
The AI photo editor is created by a Russian company called Wireless Lab. There have been some worrying reports that FaceApp gets access to your entire photo roll (not just the selfie you upload to goof around with), but several different tech privacy experts couldn’t find any such evidence.
Instead, the real concern with FaceApp appears to be what they do with the photo you do send. The app’s Terms and Service agreement you clicked “agree” on without reading gives FaceApp — and we’re quoting directly here — “a perpetual, irrevocable, nonexclusive, royalty-free, worldwide, fully-paid, transferable, sub-licensable license to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, creative 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.”
That’s a lot of words to basically say your photo forever belongs to Wireless Lab and anyone they want to give it to, to do whatever they want with forever. “It is impossible to tell from this what happens when you upload it, that is the problem,” privacy expert David Vaile told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. “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.”
Well, what kind of things? That’s the million-dollar question, literally, as unfettered access is the name of the game in data mining. Sure, this could mean your photo ends up on a billboard in Berlin but far more likely, it means your photos being used for digital experiments. Earlier this year, popular photo storage app Ever was caught using photos to help train software sold to law enforcement agencies. IBM was caught in a similar scandal, using Flickr photos to train digital facial recognition software without users’ knowledge.
FaceApp isn’t exactly unique in this kind of vague data scooping, but the app’s virality makes it a convenient case study for the ways tech companies can sneak into your personal information for reasons that may not be clear even to them. The important thing is to get access now and see what opportunities pop up later. That’s as good a reason as any to think twice before giving them your information.