19 July 2019

FaceApp: data concerns around the new trend

Image from FaceApp

What did you look like five years ago? What will you look like in twenty years? Which superhero are you?

Whilst these may seem like silly questions they are the type of ‘mystery’ driving viral trends across the internet, time and time again. This week the big craze is FaceApp. The app ‘ages’ your pictures to show what you could look like in years to come.

However, behind the fun and games, there is potentially a more sinister side. Rumours are rife that in downloading and using the app, you grant unequivocal rights to your entire camera roll. There are even rumours that it is a plot by Russia to harvest facial recognition data.

Ludicrous, right?

I am not so sure. For one thing, with so much anxiety around Russia. The country is at the top of the list of suspects whenever questionable practices online are mentioned, so there’s no wonder people jump to these conclusions.

Secondly, whilst this is likely just a dramatic rumour to stop an annoying trend, the fact of the matter is that it is possible. The spread of these trends shows how simple it is to trick people into handing over huge swathes of their information without even considering the consequences.

The big data question

A few years ago, there was a trend for sharing side-by-side photographs of yourself now and as you were five or ten years ago. It spread like wildfire. Not long after, reports started to circulate that it was actually a ploy by Facebook. The rumours suggested it was gathering data to analyse how people age. This in turn would help develop facial recognition and AI models. Although this is in itself unsurprising when you look at their history of using data with the likes of Onavo and Research.

Facebook isn’t the only big tech firm making us question how our data is being used in ways we might not know about. According to The Guardian, Google researchers disclosed that they had in fact used YouTube videos of the mannequin challenge to train an AI model. It also reported that:

“Google researchers disclosed that they used at least 8 million user images to train face recognition. And Facebook researchers mentioned using at least 10 million users.”

Ultimately, we’re lazy in reading the terms of using these services. When you haphazardly click ‘agree’ do you really understand what you are agreeing to?

So, whilst rumours circulate about this craze or that trend, actually we need to be aware at all points of how our data is being used by the tech around us every day.

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