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FaceApp, a popular novelty, shows that online tools can pose privacy risks

Read other technology coverage and share two things you learn.
Summarize news or commentary on a privacy issue in health care, education, finance or law enforcement.
Newspapers are sensitive to privacy. Find or imagine examples of situations that are reported without identifying some people involved. Besides names, what may be omitted to respect privacy and avoid possible harm?

A viral app that seems like whimsical fun also has a darker side. FaceApp, the most popular free offering in the iTunes App Store and Google Play last month, uses artificial technology to transform photos of people and suggest how they'll look in 10, 25 or 50 years. You can add gray hair, wrinkles and a beard for guys. The digital tool with millions of fans is from a company in Saint Petersburg, Russia, named Wireless Lab, and it's a reminder that online activity can compromise privacy.

FaceApp keeps selfies that users upload for editing, and states in its terms of service that it can store them forever – even if you delete the app. Like virtually all app providers and websites, the company gathers location information, usage data and browsing history. The user agreement also says FaceApp, as well as any firm that works with it or acquires it, can do whatever it wants with images – including use for business purposes. It asks for optional access to all pictures on your camera roll, as well as for your name and email address – information that experts strongly advise against providing.

A technology attorney and legal scholar has blunt advice: "Stop using FaceApp because there are few controls on how your data, including your face data, will be used," writes Tiffany C. Li, a researcher at Yale University Law School's Information Society Project. Washington Post tech writer Geoffrey Fowler ran an electronic check on what the app captures and is uneasy about "how much data FaceApp was sending to its own servers, after which who knows what happens."

That concern isn't limited to FaceApp. "There are probably a bunch of other apps on your phone doing the same thing," warns reporter Ashley Carman at The Verge, a tech news site. "Still, the conversation does bring attention to standard tech practices that might be more invasive than users realize. . . People should think about how their data is being used before sharing it with an unknown app," she adds. At the TechCrunch site, editor-in-chief Matthew Panzarino agrees in a recent post about FaceApp: "It is important that we think carefully about the safeguards put in place to protect photo archives and the motives and methods of the apps we give access to." And from The New York Times comes this hard-slap reality check: "There are many apps we already use that are at least as invasive as FaceApp, and that use facial recognition, and that are already known to have breached the trust of their users."

Policy says: "FaceApp, its affiliates or service providers may transfer information that we collect about you, including personal information across borders and from your country or jurisdiction to other countries or jurisdictions around the world."

Author says: "FaceApp also gains access to Siri and Search. Why? Not for anything good for you, I bet. Oh, and it has access to refreshing in the background -- so even when you are not using it, it is using you." – Rob La Gesse of San Antonio, past executive at Rackspace, a web hosting and cloud computing firm

Journalist says: "Privacy advocates began waving warning flags about the Russian-made app's vague legalese." – Geoffrey Fowler, Washington Post tech columnist

Front Page Talking Points is written by Alan Stamm for, Copyright 2019
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