Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 13 December 2019

FaceApp controversy: United States senator calls for the FBI to look into Russia-owned app, so should we be worried?

FaceApp might seem like a bit of harmless fun, but there may be security concerns to be aware of

Tyrese, Ludacris and Courteney Cox have all aged themselves with FaceApp filters. Instagram 
Tyrese, Ludacris and Courteney Cox have all aged themselves with FaceApp filters. Instagram 

Taking a selfie and running it through an app to see what you might look like a few decades from now might seem harmless enough, but FaceApp might not be just a bit of innocent fun.

The app has now come under first for its links to Russia and its associated privacy concerns, with a United States senator calling for an FBI probe into the app.

The viral smartphone application helps users fast-forward a few decades using a digital ageing tool. It's been around since 2017, but has seen a new surge of popularity with the release of the ageing filter, with everyone from sports stars to celebrities jumping on the bandwagon in recent days.

But on Wednesday, US senate minority leader Chuck Schumer called on the FBI and the Federal Trade Commission to conduct a national security and privacy investigation into the app, which was developed in Russia.

In a letter to FBI director Christopher Wray and FTC chairman Joe Simons, Schumer said the app requires "full and irrevocable access to their personal photos and data," which could pose "national security and privacy risks for millions of US citizens", according to Reuters.

The Democratic National Committee also sent out an alert to the party's 2020 presidential candidates on Wednesday warning them against using the app, pointing to its Russian origin. In the email, Reuters says, DNC security chief Bob Lord also urged Democratic presidential campaigns to delete the app immediately if they or their staff had already used it.

FaceApp, which was developed by Wireless Lab, a company based in St Petersburg, claims to have over 80 million active users. It tends to make headlines every few months as a new filter is introduced to the app.

Twitter handle @PrivacyMatters, which describes itself as an advocate of data protection, privacy and human rights, has taken a deep dive into the security ramifications of using FaceApp.

They say that by using the app, you grant FaceApp "a perpetual, irrevocable, nonexclusive, royalty-free, worldwide, fully-paid, transferable sub-licensable licence to use your content (and which may be of your friends or colleagues) for a range of commercial purposes".

Over a series of tweets, several other advertising and content sharing revelations are made. Find the full thread here.

In 2018, FaceApp removed its "ethnicity filters" after an outpouring of public backlash, and people condemning them as racist. It recently came under fire for not disclosing that images were uploaded to the cloud rather than staying on a user's device.

Russia is naturally a touchy subject for the United States right now.

The potential FaceApp probe comes hot on the heels of an investigation by US special counsel Robert Mueller of alleged hacking by Russia's intelligence agency and social media manipulation by Russia's Internet Research Agency to benefit Trump's election campaign.

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Read more:

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Updated: July 18, 2019 05:10 PM

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