You know those images of athletes looking like they’d aged 40 years filling up your social media timelines on Tuesday?
It turns out those are courtesy of a Russian company called Wireless Labs. And they’re collecting information from users. And a powerful U.S. senator is now pleading with the FBI and FTC to do something about it.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D, New York) wrote a letter Wednesday night expressing concern that the mobile app FaceApp “could pose national security and privacy risks for millions of U.S. citizens.”
“I ask that the FBI assess whether the personal data uploaded by millions of Americans onto FaceApp may be finding its way into the hands of the Russian government or entities with ties to the Russian government,” Schumer wrote. “If so, I would urge that steps be immediately taken by the FBI to mitigate the risk presented by the aggregation of this data.”
In case you took the last couple of days off from the internet, here’s what all the rage is about.
Athletes went nuts for FaceApp
Athletes were among the most active users of the app that takes a photo and spits out an impressive approximation of what somebody might look like in a few decades.
LeBron James was into it.
Stephen Curry was into it.
Russell Wilson was into it.
JuJu Smith-Schuster was into it.
Entire teams were into it.
You were probably into it
Judging by the 100-million-plus downloads on Google Play and top ranking in the iOS app store in 121 countries, there’s a good chance that you too, as an internet consumer, were into it.
If so, you’ve given Wireless Labs permission to do with your data and image pretty much whatever it sees fit.
User agreement sparks concern
On Wednesday, after all the rage over how cool the app was had died down, the fine print of its user agreement started to make the rounds.
Here’s one of the primary snippets that raised alarm bells:
You grant FaceApp a perpetual, irrevocable, nonexclusive, royalty-free, worldwide, fully-paid, transferable sub-licensable license to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, create derivative works from, distribute, publicly perform and display your User Content and any name, username or likeness provided in connection with your User Content in all media formats and channels now known or later developed, without compensation to you. When you post or otherwise share User Content on or through our Services, you understand that your User Content and any associated information (such as your [username], location or profile photo) will be visible to the public.
That doesn’t sound good. Though it probably doesn’t deviate much from any of the countless user agreements the average internet user has blindly agreed to.
Russian ties increase anxiety
But it’s a Russian company. And in the wake of the scandal that saw Russian interference make an impact on the 2016 election, anything that has a whiff of Cambridge Analytica raises red flags.
It definitely explains why the leading democrat in the U.S. Senate is making a stink over it.
Forbes reached out to FaceApp founder Yaroslav Goncahrov on Wednesday to get his side.
He assured Forbes that there was nothing to worry about.
"We only upload a photo selected by a user for editing,” Goncahrov told Forbes. “We never transfer any other images from the phone to the cloud.
"We might store an uploaded photo in the cloud. The main reason for that is performance and traffic. We want to make sure that the user doesn't upload the photo repeatedly for every edit operation. Most images are deleted from our servers within 48 hours from the upload date."
So that’s assuring.
Another lesson of the internet
It seems in all likelihood that there’s nothing truly nefarious to worry about here. Maybe some images of people get used in marketing or advertising materials without their active consent.
But after 2016, the worst-case scenario remains top of mind. It’s a reminder for athletes and everyone else who used FaceApp to approach the internet with a little more savvy regarding an age-old internet lesson.
If you’re not paying for a product online, you’re probably the product.
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