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FaceApp may be fun — but is it safe to use?

illustration of woman taking selfieIt’s all fun and games until someone steals your face, right? Or your data.

In 2019, FaceApp—a program that uses artificial intelligence to “age” a person’s selfie—caused a stir, both because of its viral popularity but also because of security concerns around the product.  

After skyrocketing to the top of iPhone and Android downloads, the Russian-made app got blowback on social media and even from the Democratic National Committee over privacy concerns, which went so far as to urge presidential campaigns to “delete the app immediately.”

The concerns stem from the way the app works on iPhones, in which FaceApp appears to gain access to your entire photo library.

"Your face is likely being used to develop algorithms to detect and recognize faces, maybe even to recognize you as an individual," warned Electrical and Computer Engineering Professor Aleix Martinez.

The photos, on iPhones and Androids, are sent to the cloud for processing, which could leave users susceptible to hacking. According to an Associated Press story, the app’s privacy policy states it uses data for targeted ads.

However, many—like DNC officials—are concerned with how photos could be misused.

Martinez, a cognitive scientist, said he wouldn’t recommend people use it and that lawmakers should take a close look at apps of this nature.

“The industry is in urgent need of regulation,” he said. “Your face is likely being used to develop algorithms to detect and recognize faces, maybe even to recognize you as an individual. If you are OK with this, that’s fine, you can consent to it. But if you do not want your pictures to be used, then you should have that option.”