If you’ve been on social media any time during the last week, you are probably somewhat familiar with FaceApp – an application that uses artificial intelligence to age the faces in pictures uploaded to the app.
The app allows users to alter the appearance of themselves using AI. Say you want to see what you look like with glasses or a mustache, FaceApp can show you a realistic depiction of these hypothetical styles. But the characteristic that is gaining the most attention is the old feature where the application basically shows users what they would look like as an older version of themselves.
It has taken the Internet and the world by storm as celebrities are doing the so-called FaceApp Challenge to share images of what they might look like years down the road.
Although FaceApp seems like it is all fun and games, some are worried about what happens to the photos after they are uploaded to the app. Yaroslav Goncharov is the CEO of the company.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. FaceApp Is a Russian Start-up Based in St. Petersburg
FaceApp, a Russian startup is facing scrutiny from the public as users are worried about what happens to their photos after they are uploaded to the application.
Although the application began in Russia, TechCrunch reports that the company is currently using Google and Amazon-owned servers in the United States.
Russian based companies have faced large amounts of scrutiny in the recent past, as former special counsel Robert Mueller’s office charged more than a dozen Russian citizens in connection to a campaign in 2016 to undermine the 2016 presidential election, per Business Insider.
2. FaceApp Appears to Not Be Storing Photos in Servers Based in Russia
According to a Forbes report, a French security researcher who goes by the pseudonym Elliot Alderson (real name Baptiste Robert) found that FaceApp only stores photos that are uploaded by the user, despite claims from developer Joshua Nozzi who said FaceApp could access all the photos stored on a user’s phone.
As for where these photos are stored, it appears Alderson has confirmed that they are not stored in Russia but in the United States.
“And where’s that server based? America, not Russia. A cursory look at hosting records confirmed to Forbes that this was true, the servers for FaceApp.io were based in Amazon data centers in the U.S. And, as noted by Alderson, the app also uses third party code, and so will reach out to their servers, but again these are based in the U.S. and Australia,” Forbes reported.
3. Goncharov & FaceApp Released a Statement Addressing the Concerns of Users
Although FaceApp admitted that the app does store photos in a cloud in order to harness the “app’s beautifying/gender-bending/age-accerating/-defying effects,” TechCrunch reports that the company stated that the app does not override any camera-roll privacy specifications – something developer Joshua Nozzi was claiming earlier in the week.
The company also stated that users’ data is not shared with any third parties and their photos are typically deleted 48 hours after they’re uploaded.
“We don’t sell or share any user data with any third parties,” FaceApp’s statement said. “Most images are deleted from our servers within 48 hours from the upload date.”
Goncharov also personally confirmed that his company uses Amazon and Google clouds outside of Russia, per TechCrunch.
The company’s full statement can be read below:
1. FaceApp performs most of the photo processing in the cloud. We only upload a photo selected by a user for editing. We never transfer any other images from the phone to the cloud.
2. We might store an uploaded photo in the cloud. The main reason for that is performance and traffic: we want to make sure that the user doesn’t upload the photo repeatedly for every edit operation. Most images are deleted from our servers within 48 hours from the upload date.
3. We accept requests from users for removing all their data from our servers. Our support team is currently overloaded, but these requests have our priority. For the fastest processing, we recommend sending the requests from the FaceApp mobile app using “Settings->Support->Report a bug” with the word “privacy” in the subject line. We are working on the better UI for that.
4. All FaceApp features are available without logging in, and you can log in only from the settings screen. As a result, 99% of users don’t log in; therefore, we don’t have access to any data that could identify a person.
5. We don’t sell or share any user data with any third parties.
6. Even though the core R&D team is located in Russia, the user data is not transferred to Russia.
Additionally, we’d like to comment on one of the most common concerns: all pictures from the gallery are uploaded to our servers after a user grants access to the photos (for example, https://twitter.com/joshuanozzi/status/1150961777548701696). We don’t do that. We upload only a photo selected for editing. You can quickly check this with any of network sniffing tools available on the internet.
4. Goncharov Attended St. Petersburg State University & Founded FaceApp in St. Petersburg, Russia
According to Yaroslav Goncharov’s LinkedIn page, the FaceApp CEO studied computer science at St. Petersburg State University and founded FaceApp in St. Petersburg.
The development team is still based out of Russia, but it doesn’t seem like a major security issue, as security expert Elliot Alderson stated that many several legitimate developers are based in Russia today.
“As far as I can see, there is no reason to be concerned with the current version available on the store. I don’t see why the nationality of the developers is an issue. There is also some legit devs in Russia,” Alderson responded to a concern on Twitter.
5. Goncharov Spent Time in the United States Working for Microsoft
Prior to starting FaceApp, Yaroslav Goncharov spent some time in the United States working as a developer for Microsoft.
He was an “AirSync DirectPush architect” and worked on “AirSync implementation on the device side,” per his LinkedIn page.
Goncharov also worked for SPB Software and its parent company Yandex before founding FaceApp. Both based in Russia.