Over the past week, FaceApp has taken the internet by storm and people can’t get enough of it. It is a mobile application for iOS and Android developed by Russian company Wireless Lab. Neural network technology is used here to automatically generate highly realistic transformations of faces in photographs. The app can transform a face to make it smile, look younger, look older, or change gender. However, FaceApp has faced backlash as it has been shunned by some privacy analysts and politicians. These people have expressed concerns about its terms of service, which gives the Russian development team behind the app the ability to use photos uploaded by users for commercial purposes.
David Choffnes, an assistant professor at Khoury College of Computer Sciences of the Northeastern university, talks about concerns related to this app. His research includes designing solutions to internet security and privacy. He believes that the society don’t really prioritise the concept of taking care of their privacy. They usually value convenience, entertainment and trust in their friends, and peers while sharing something But a lot of factors together make us as human beings and these kinds of technologies exploit them. The clear privacy concern is that our face is in the hands of a company that can use it however they want, according to their terms and conditions. Thus, they might Photoshop you into an image and make a deep fake image where you’re doing something compromising or embarrassing. They could in fact sell faces to the Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and try to use this technology to identify undocumented immigrants for deportation.
About the Russian government being behind this app, Choffnes point out that there is strong evidence against them in the form of current geopolitics. Being a state-sponsored activity, a Russian company who might not have ties with the Russian government has access to faces that can be misused.
“It’s one of those things where I think consumers need to be much more skeptical of things that are online and just because it sounds fun and your friends have done it does not mean that you should necessarily do it”, Choffnes concludes.
Shahjadi Jemim Rahman