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FaceApp’s Privacy Policy Isn’t Great for Users, But Not Because It’s Russian

Cameron LeBlanc

We’ve got some good news and some bad news. The good news is that FaceApp, the periodically viral app that uses artificial intelligence to alter user-submitted photographs, is not uniquely awful on the privacy front. The bad news is that its terms are still pretty invasive.

FaceApp has been in the news thanks to its latest filter, which spits out a prediction of what you might look like as an elderly person and has shown a lot of folks that they’re probably just going to look like their parents. It’s a fun and interesting use of this technology that feeds the natural curiosity people have about themselves.

But its virality on social media has led to people using those same platforms to sound the alarm about FaceApp. One common criticism: it’s Russian, and giving any personal information to an authoritarian, election-hacking company is a bad idea.

Even Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer got in on the action, demanding a probe into the company.

This Red Scare-style rhetoric misses the point because what FaceApp does is par for the course. Plenty of American companies do the same.

The company’s privacy policy is comprehensive yet vague. In addition to content you provide it directly, FaceApp also collects information “sent by your device or our Service, including the web pages you visit, add-ons, and other information that assists us in improving the Service.” What is this “other information?” No clue!

The information FaceApp gathers is used to serve you targeted ads and improve and maintain the service. It’s also shared with “businesses that are legally part of the same group of companies that FaceApp is part of” and “third-party organizations that help us provide the Service to you” under “reasonable confidentiality terms.” What is reasonable? We don’t know!

In a statement to TechCrunch, FaceApp defended its privacy practices and pointed out that users’ data is not physically transmitted to Russia which, again, isn’t really the issue.

But even though it’s misplaced, it’s good that the FaceApp controversy is causing a conversation about internet privacy and what companies around the world do with the data their users provide them.

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