Accusations about FaceApp, a popular photo app that went viral transforms people’s faces to look older could soon be under review by the FBI after privacy concerns were raised over practices by the Russian company operating it.
The DNC, still smarting from the Russia-linked 2016 cyberattacks that resulted in the leaking of DNC emails, sent an email to Democratic presidential campaigns telling them not to use the app, CNN first reported on Tuesday.
“This app allows users to perform different transformations on photos of people, such as aging the person in the picture. Unfortunately, this novelty is not without risk: FaceApp was developed by Russians,” said a memo from DNC security officer Bob Lord. CBS also confirmed the memo.
Lord recommended campaigns and their staff “delete the app immediately” because “the benefits of avoiding the app outweigh the risks.”
The Senate minority leader called for an inquiry into the app, which is developed by a St. Petersburg-based firm, Wireless Lab, saying he has “serious concerns” about how it handles personal data. He wrote a letter to heads of the FBI and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), saying: “FaceApp’s location in Russia raises questions regarding how and when the company provides access to the data of US citizens to third parties, including potentially foreign governments.”
BIG: Share if you used #FaceApp:
Because millions of Americans have used it
It’s owned by a Russia-based company
And users are required to provide full, irrevocable access to their personal photos & data pic.twitter.com/cejLLwBQcr
— Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) July 18, 2019
Security experts noted the app was owned by a company based in Saint Petersburg, Russia, and included terms of service that granted FaceApp a “perpetual, irrevocable, nonexclusive, royalty-free, worldwide, fully-paid, transferable sub-licensable license to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, create derivative works from, distribute, publicly perform and display your User Content,” USA Today reported.
FaceApp has been around since 2017 and allows users to upload a portrait to its server, where an AI algorithm applies so-called filters to alter the image. The app has faced a string controversies in the past. Filters that could make a face seem black or Asian were called racist, before they were removed. Gender-bending filters also drew criticism from LGBT advocates, who saw them as offensive to trans people.
Schumer asked the FBI to determine whether the data uploaded to FaceApp “may be finding its way into the hands of the Russian government, or entities with ties to the Russian government.” He also requested the FTC “consider whether there are adequate safeguards in place to prevent the privacy of Americans using this application.”