FaceApp And The Double Standards Against Tech Startups — An Opinion

There’s much speculating about how the popular photo-manipulation app, FaceApp, would use the data it collected from users who used the platform to take a sneak-peek of how they would look like in the future.

Following the success of the small-time Russian app on social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter; many have raised concerns regarding how the app could potentially be a privacy and security risk for users. After the news broke out, major news outlets shared their opinions of how the app has gained access to a dataset of photos from millions of people and how the app can use the materials without the owner’s concern — which is clearly stated in the app’s terms and conditions.

By submitting your photo to the app, 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.”

The issue of FaceApp being blown out of proportions highlights the fact that people don’t really care about their online security and privacy. Many of the app’s users responded with a blunt “I don’t care” to the news that FaceApp could potentially compromise their data.

Double standards vs. FaceApp

However, one of the most untalked elements of the issue is how it highlights the double standard that people impose on small-time developers and tech startups, as compared to tech superpowers like Facebook, Google, and Youtube.

In the get-go, it is clear that there is a potential security risk involving FaceApp and the fact that it is connected to a Russian company. However, these risks are also present in models of massive tech companies, especially social media and photo-sharing platforms like Facebook and Instagram.

Facebook and Instagram, as platforms where users freely “upload” and share photos (and other data) of themselves, process millions of terabytes of data every day. These two platforms have access to a much more significant database of photos that can be compromised at any time.

If you come to think of it, the risk in sharing your photo on Facebook and Instagram is much damning than when you use FaceApp. But we have not heard the media calling out Facebook and warning people not to upload their photos on Instagram.

The risk is the same.

The difference between Facebook and FaceApp is that Facebook (and Google) has a history of selling your data to third parties. Last year, Facebook faced the US government for allegedly selling US citizens’ data to Cambridge Analytica, a British PR firm accused of helping the Russians and Donald Trump influence public opinion through fake news, and a series of anti-Hillary campaigns.

Another argument used against FaceApp is that it asks a series of permission, including access to a user’s camera roll. They stipulate that once given this access; the app would have the capability to gain unauthorized access to all the photos saved on the user’s device.

In a statement, FaceApp clarifies that the permission was necessary for them to gain access to the photo selected by their users. FaceApp added that the app “performs most of the photo processing in the cloud, upload a photo selected by a user for editing, and never transfer any other images from the phone to the cloud.”

While this is indeed a sketchy practice, it is also worthy to note that Facebook and Instagram also ask for this permission. Meaning, they too have access to the plethora of photos (embarrassing or not) saved in a user’s phone. And again, we don’t hear media and experts telling us not to upload pictures on Facebook and Instagram, nor are they stopping us from giving that permission to those social media giants.

This is a reality for small-time developers and tech start-ups. Often, when they release innovation, people quickly become too skeptical and raise concerns about their new product.

But this does not go to show that we should stop criticizing technology. At all cost, we should. The only problem with the reality right now is that we burden budding technology with so many things to prove while we let established tech companies get away with the exact same thing.

The bottom line is that if we are going to tell people to be vigilant of FaceApp, we should not single the app out. Instead, we should tell people to be watchful of the risks that come with all technology — including those that are produced by large tech companies.

About the Author

Al Restar
A consumer tech and cybersecurity journalist who does content marketing while daydreaming about having unlimited coffee for life and getting a pet llama. I also own a cybersecurity blog called Zero Day.

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