Is the "FaceApp Challenge" Safe?

The FaceApp challenge is fun — if handing your data to a Russian company is a good time. But the privacy risks the app poses are actually quite common.

Facing the Tech

Drake, Sam Smith, Lil Nas X, The Jonas Brothers, Dwayne Wade, Kevin Hart, James Marsden, Busy Philipps, Mindy Kaling, Jared Leto, Adam Scott, The Queer Eye Cast, Gordon Ramsay, Lebron James, Diplo, and The Jonas Brothers. They all participated in this summer's viral hit is the "FaceApp challenge" — but is it safe? which uses artificial intelligence to generate highly realistic transformations of faces in photographs. The app can transform a face to make it smile, look younger, look older, or change gender. The app, created in Russia, previously gained attention with features that would change a photo's expression gender. Researchers say FaceApp presents risks to data security privacy.

Like many mobile apps, it can access your photo gallery and track your IP address. FaceApp (like many other apps) may upload and store your photos to the cloud then sell them to third parties. There are multiple options to manipulate the photo uploaded such as editor options of adding an impression, make-up, smiles, hair colors, hairstyles, glasses, age or beards. Filters, lens blur and backgrounds along with overlays, tattoos, and vignettes are also a part of the app. The gender change transformations of FaceApp have attracted particular interest from the LGBTQIA and transgender communities, due to their ability to realistically simulate the appearance of a person as the opposite gender.

Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has called for a federal investigation over potential national security and privacy risks to Americans. Carton FaceApp's CEO responded to concerns by confirming the company processed photos on the cloud, but said most images are deleted within 48 hours. He also said users could scrub their data from the company's servers but only via the app's "report a bug" function. Experts are not reassured however, and some say this is an issue across the tech industry.