Thursday, July 18, 2019

A Warning Regarding Your Digital Life - FaceApp and Terms of Service

It's time to issue another warning regarding our digital lives.  This time it relates to a third party app called FaceApp that is booming on social media.  The app gives faces in photographs digital makeovers, like changing hairstyles and making the subject look younger, like the opposite sex, and in the most recent social media meme, older.

The app was developed by a Russian company called Wireless Lab and has been on the market since January 2017.  It previously came under fire for allegations that it lightened the skin of black people. Currently, the company is under scrutiny for clauses in their terms of service.

You know, that thing you never read, but check a box saying you agree to.  The really fine print, that is difficult for lawyers to even digest and understand at times.   The thing that comes with every app and piece of software used on your digital devices.

This current controversy surrounding FaceApp started from a tweet suggesting that FaceApp uploads ALL of the photos on the device you are using to the cloud, to their servers in Russia.  That would be alarming.  After all, you do have to give the app access to your photos.  

FaceApp has denied the claim and multiple security researchers have confirmed this is not the case.  The app takes only the photo you ask it to manipulate and says it deletes most images from its servers within 48 hours of uploading.  You can also ask FaceApp to remove all your data from its servers by sending a request within the app.  Go to Settings > Support > Report a bug, and put “Privacy” in the subject line.

The terms of service do grant FaceApp a lot of rights to the photos that users upload, including to use and keep, as well as potential sale and distribution, etc., but they do not apply to everything on your phone or tablet.   

That does not mean you don’t have a right to be suspicious or to be cautious regarding what you are sharing through third party apps.  In fact, I would argue you need to be completely vigilant in everything you share on applications and extensions on your devices.  

Let’s take for example Facebook.  With its terms of services, you are allowing facial recognition to be applied to photos that users upload on the app.  You are agreeing to a a "non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, and worldwide license to host, use, distribute, modify, run, copy, publicly perform or display, translate, and create derivative works of your content (consistent with your privacy and applications settings).

This means Facebook can do whatever with they want with everything you post, upload, share, etc.  And despite whatever viral post you may have seen, putting them on notice in a post in their app offers absolutely no protection.  So, the post that goes “Don’t forget tomorrow starts the new Facebook rule where they can use your photos” and ends “FACEBOOK DOES NOT HAVE MY PERMISSION TO SHARE PHOTOS OR MESSAGES,” that’s a meaningless hoax.  You already gave them that permission when you joined the site.  If you want to revoke it, delete your account.

Should you do that, here is what Facebook says will happen:
When you delete your account, people won’t be able to see it on Facebook.  It may take up to 90 days from the beginning of the deletion process to delete all of the things you’ve posted, like your photos, status updates or other data store in backup systems.  While we are deleting this information, it is inaccessible to other people using Facebook.
Some of the things you do on Facebook aren’t stored in your account.  For example, a friend may still have messages from you even after you delete your account.  That information remains after you delete your account

Notice it says that others on Facebook won’t be able to see your information, but it says nothing about what Facebook will still have access to.

Concerned?  You should be.  Let's be honest, we have no idea what we are agreeing to most of the time we add an app or access a quiz/app on the web.  

The best strategy is to remain vigilant about what you post, upload, and grant access to.  When an app asks to have access to your location, your photos, your microphone, etc., think about whether you really want to be giving that access away.  For example, Jamie cut her hair short recently, but did no searching regarding the subject.  She started seeing ads for how to style short hair immediately after discussing it.  Google on her phone has access to her microphone.

I mean, it's not paranoia when they are really out to get you. 

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