Have you still not downloaded FaceApp? Well don’t, at least on your iPhone

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New Delhi | Updated: July 17, 2019 6:55 PM

FaceApp is going viral around the Internet for all the good reasons

About two years back, FaceApp broke through the glass ceiling for introducing Internet users with an interface that allowed changing the appearance based on age. Well, it’s viral again and a horde of millennials, celebrities are toying with a new effect that changes the photograph to look old, with grey hair, beard, wrinkles, and chapped lips. There are a couple of improved features as well since the last time.

Almost everyone who is Internet-crazed has downloaded the FaceApp and enjoyed what looks like a funny exercise of seeing your old self. The app uses machine learning to determine the changes your face will go through in old age. Of course, there are filters to make you look younger – something that reminds you of your teenage days. The app has gone insanely viral, so much so that Bollywood, Hollywood celebrities, sports stars, and even politicians are raving about FaceApp.

What about privacy?

But amid its virality that has taken the Internet by storm, a set of questions has been raised by security analysts, demanding to understand the user policy FaceApp has. The FaceApp is available on both iOS and Android. On Android, the FaceApp asks the user to provide with the permission to read and write the phone’s storage. It’s after this step that FaceApp gets access to see all the photos and analyse the ones that will be best suited for applying filters.

But it’s a different story on iOS, which has led analysts to question the privacy policy of FaceApp. First, the concerns on whether FaceApp continuously uploads and processes the photos from the gallery were quelled after a number of researchers confirmed they did not find any evidence contributing to their validation. But, FaceApp has been found capable of accessing photos from the iPhone’s gallery without the user permission.

The case in point is actually a drawback on Apple’s part. The app can access one single photo from the gallery without even touching the rest of the collection. This, in fact, is sort of a limitation of an API that was launched with the iOS 11. When an app is installed, the API provides it with constrained access to the device’s storage – solely because you agreed to the terms while installing the app. There are two permission levels here – Never or Read and Write. By default, the permission is set to Read and Write but it can be changed to Never.

The second level of permission still gives the app a pass – the API allows the app to still access at least one photo. There is no substantial evidence to prove that the app’s ability to access one photo amounts to privacy violation.

That aside, the FaceApp uploads the chosen photo to the cloud for processing, which is something that is not explicitly available to users for perusal. It is also not clear whether the photos are deleted from the server after it’s processed and available on the phone for downloading.

But for all it’s worth, FaceApp comes as another viral app that stays in the hype as long as the fad of simulating old-age is live. There are a couple of other filters that are unlocked by default but a paid version can open them for use.

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