Why is FaceApp Being Accused of Selling User Data?

In Columns, Technology

If you’ve been online on any social media platform recently, you must have seen photos in which people look much older than they really are. If not, you really don’t use social media often enough. This “old age” is caused by an app named FaceApp, which lets users click or upload pictures of themselves to apply filters on the image (similar to Snapchat and Instagram filters). There are many filters but the most famous one has been the old age filter and it’s being used by virtually everyone. This app, due to how it works, and its terms and conditions, is now being accused of stealing data.

Where does the problem lie?

The root of the problem seems to be the fact that this app was developed by a Russian company named Wireless Lab. They claim to use neural network technology to alter images and to apply filters which make the images look realistic. Now, every trend seems to pick up in USA, as did this one. Given how it is a Russian made app which almost hides behind an American platform in Facebook makes it seem untrustworthy to Americans, probably also due to Facebook’s own problems. Facebook has been accused of selling user data to companies in the past.

Mostly, social media works in such a way that even copyrighted images, when uploaded on a platform, are given to the social media platform and they have the rights over that image for free, that is basically the same as handing them a license without asking for any payment. What this means is that they are free to use the image however they want, the copyright doesn’t apply to them because someone uploaded the image on the platform. This does NOT mean that the image copyrights are owned by the platform. The user still retains the copyrights. This has been happening for years on various social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. This is completely royalty free but it’s only a license so it technically isn’t legal to sell the image(s) to a third party.

Busting the myth around FaceApp and data theft

To be fair to FaceApp, the app’s terms and conditions state the facts very clearly. Only the uploaded images are accessed by FaceApp. They use the cloud for storing photos, most of which are supposed to be deleted within 48 hours of the upload to improve performance of the app. The T&Cs also clearly state that FaceApp doesn’t sell or share user data with any third party and the data never gets transferred to Russia. If this assurance wasn’t enough, they also entertain requests to delete all user data from their servers. A break in the terms and conditions would mean that the company could be sued to the point of extinction so it seems hard to believe that FaceApp is actually selling data. The only risk with FaceApp is that if their server gets hacked, images can be stolen. This is obviously a stretch though and the same images are generally available on social media platforms.

People were quick to throw allegations towards FaceApp without having read their T&Cs, but who even reads those anymore!

(The article is authored by Nishant Nijhawan, Intern, Techxty.com. Nishant is a student of computer engineering at Delhi Technical University who believes in optimal usage of technology.)

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