19/07/2019 8:00 AM IST

FaceApp Goes From Fun Ageing Tool To Sparking Fears Of Russian Security Threat

US Senator Chuck Schumer has called on the FBI to investigate the photo app. But is everyone overreacting?

The FBI has been asked to investigate a face-editing photo app just hours after it became a viral sensation promoted on social media by numerous celebrities.

US Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer yesterday said FaceApp requires “full and irrevocable access to their personal photos and data,” which could pose “national security and privacy risks for millions of US citizens”.

Users of the app can upload a picture which is then manipulated to create highly-realistic versions with the ageing feature proving particularly popular.

Celebrities including Drake, Sam Smith, Piers Morgan and the Jonas Brothers have taken part in the viral FaceApp challenge, posting the results with the hashtag #FaceApp.

But concerns have been raised after it emerged that developer, Wireless Lab, is based in St Petersburg, Russia, and users are sending data and giving permission to the company to use it for a number of commercial purposes.

On Wednesday Schumer highlighted how the app does not clearly communicate that it uploads images to the cloud rather than processing them locally on a user’s device.

He said the photo editing app’s location in Russia raises questions about how FaceApp lets third parties, including foreign governments, have access to the data of American citizens.



It is also not clear how the artificial intelligence application retains the data of users or how users may ensure the deletion of their data after usage.

The Democratic National Committee has even sent an alert to the party’s 2020 presidential candidates on Wednesday warning them against using the app, pointing to its Russian provenance.

But the concerns could be overblown – Reuters reports there is no evidence that FaceApp provides user data to the Russian government and other platforms developed in the West such as Twitter have similar terms and conditions.

In a statement cited by media outlets, FaceApp has denied selling or sharing user data with third parties.

“99% of users don’t log in; therefore, we don’t have access to any data that could identify a person,” the company said in a statement cited by TechCrunch, adding that most images are deleted from its servers within 48 hours of the upload date.

While the company’s research and development team is located in Russia, the user data is not transferred to Russia, according to the statement.

FaceApp also made headlines back in 2017 when it was heavily criticised for adding – and swiftly deleting – racist filters.