As our lives are increasingly lived online, what seems like an innocuous (or even silly) digital act can end up having serious privacy consequences. It’s a bleak reality that many are confronting once again thanks to a face-morphing app that ages the photos of users — who probably don’t know they have signed away the rights to their faces.
FaceApp isn’t new and neither is controversy about it. The app has previously been criticised for offering “ethnicity change filters” and a “hotness” filter that lightened subjects’ skin. But the app has gone viral again as people upload photos to it to make themselves look older or younger. And with its resurgence, security researchers are quick to point out that there are some significant privacy concerns.
Not all of them are warranted. Security researcher Jane Wong wrote on Twitter that when a user’s photos are uploaded to FaceApp’s servers, “not much info is being sent” to the company aside from photos and user metrics.
More egregiously, however, is a policy buried in FaceApp’s terms of service, which was last updated in August. According to the User Content subsection, by downloading the app, you have agreed to hand over your likeness, voice, persona, name, and user content for commercial use without any compensation. The section is in full below, emphasis ours:
You grant FaceApp a perpetual, irrevocable, nonexclusive, royalty-free, worldwide, fully-paid, transferable sub-licensable licence to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, create 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.
When you post or otherwise share User Content on or through our Services, you understand that your User Content and any associated information (such as your [username], location or profile photo) will be visible to the public.
You grant FaceApp consent to use the User Content, regardless of whether it includes an individual’s name, likeness, voice or persona, sufficient to indicate the individual’s identity. By using the Services, you agree that the User Content may be used for commercial purposes. You further acknowledge that FaceApp’s use of the User Content for commercial purposes will not result in any injury to you or to any person you authorised to act on its behalf.
You acknowledge that some of the Services are supported by advertising revenue and may display advertisements and promotions, and you hereby agree that FaceApp may place such advertising and promotions on the Services or on, about, or in conjunction with your User Content. The manner, mode and extent of such advertising and promotions are subject to change without specific notice to you. You acknowledge that we may not always identify paid services, sponsored content, or commercial communications as such.
FaceApp probably won’t be the next Cambridge Analytica, but it’s hard to know how it will use our data given its broad and exploitative terms of service. And its recent comeback demonstrates how swiftly people will hop on a silly internet trend without fully understanding what they’re giving up.
The sad truth is that most of us rely on a variety of digital systems — from virtual assistants to mobile phone carriers — that scoop up our data under vague or confusing terms. In this case, at least, opting out is easy. It just means skipping the latest social media fad.