Have your social media feeds been filled to the brim with tacky Area 51 memes and pictures of old people that seem just a bit off?
While we can blame a meme Facebook for the former, the reason for the latter is the trending #AgeChallenge kick-started by the developer behind gender-swapping, age-bending app FaceApp. Congratulations, that’s just the state of social media in mid-2019, and it’s the latest proof that clever marketing strategies can easily create tons of media coverage by achieving viral status.
Released on both iOS and Android more than two years ago, in the early months of 2017, the app was destined for virality from its very inception thanks to its genius premise: users upload a photo, AI algorithms do their behind-the-scenes magic, user receives a funny augmented version of themselves that simply begs to be shared on social media. From the get-go, users could choose between filters that made them older, younger, swapped their gender, dyed their hair, imagined them with thick beards and make-up, and so much more.
A couple of months after its arrival, FaceApp quickly sparked tons of controversy with a couple of ethnicity-changing filters it scored, enabling users to partake in what’s best described as digital blackfacing and racial appropriation.
Truth be told, FaceApp’s filters does a very believable job that almost always sparks a “Wow!” or at least a “Would you look at that!“. There’s no way to really know what you’d look in a few decades’ time, but the results at hand all look quite believable, to the point where they’re seemingly crossing that uncanny valley that is slightly putting us off.
I tried it on myself, and let me tell you, I look a lot like my grandfather on my father’s side.
In the meantime, methinks the kid filter doesn’t do as good a job: it’s a bit hit or miss, and isn’t very believable. There’s another thing to consider here, though – we all know how we looked as kids, so the algorithms undertake a way more serious scrutiny on our part, especially when you compare them with the “old” filter.
Those two filters are, to me, the real catwalk star of FaceApp, with the rest being way less impressive in what they do. Sure, your mileage may vary.
More than 100,000,000 Android users have downloaded and used FaceApp for the two and a half years it’s been available. It’s also currently the #1 top free and #2 top grossing app on the Apple App Store, which means that an equal amount of iOS users have likely downloaded and used it.
Essentially, once you download and use FaceApp, you’re giving this Russian company the exclusive right to do whatever it desires with any photo you upload to the app. You might end up on a billboard somewhere in Moscow, but your face will most likely end up training some AI facial-recognition algorithm. The worst part is that this right is irrevocable, meaning you can’t just delete your profile from the app and the app itself and expect Wireless Lab to stop using your content as it sees fit. “FaceApp, its Affiliates, or Service Providers may transfer information that we collect about you, including personal information across borders and from your country or jurisdiction to other countries or jurisdictions around the world. If you are located in the European Union or other regions with laws governing data collection and use that may differ from U.S. law, please note that we may transfer information, including personal information, to a country and jurisdiction that does not have the same data protection laws as your jurisdiction.”
With Internet Research Agency, another Saint Petersburg-based company being connected to the cyber-interference in the 2016 US presidential campaign that saw Donald Trump elected, there’s really no telling what could Wireless Lab be up to. Hopefully that’s all just fear-mongering, but you can never really be too safe in the Internet, especially when it comes to your own personal data.