We really are living in the future, with the growth and fast development of face recognition technology. It all started with the hardware, Android made face unlock a public feature starting with Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS) in 2011, that was eight years ago. It was seen as a gimmick, as a static image against the phone’s front camera was enough to defeat it. Humble beginnings indeed, the technology was further refined by Apple in its iPhone X device in 2017, that was when Cupertino was able to improve the technology to make it immune from 2D picture vulnerability in ICS, thanks to its 3d scanning and flood illuminator sensors.
Since then, all flagship and some mid-range smartphones provide a similar 3d face scanning technology that detects and stores real life faces with reasonable quality. We entered the new frontier of face detection and marking technology, and for that to complete practically in the real world, it needs enabling software to make it practical. Enter FaceApp, a 3rd party app available in the Google Play Store and Apple App Store, promising to improve user’s selfie experience (the app uses the term “Hollywood-ready selfies”) with its advanced algorithm when detecting faces.
Sort of considered as a gimmick by its critics, the app features the capability to make user’s selfies to look younger or older, turn your male face to a female and vice versa. Something that can only be done by an advanced algorithmic mathematical calculations, now becoming a commodity app for everyone. The seemingly innocent app which was already downloaded more than 100,000,000 times in the Google Play Store alone, is now at the center of controversy when mainstream media picked-up the story of its Russian developers collecting user faces through the app to build a global database of people’s faces.
The story started in a tabloid-sounding website nypost.com, and now elevated to the level of mainstream media such as CNN. Is this a rumor turned into a PR disaster for the FaceApp developer? Though the issue initially was posted by a tabloid, it does not mean that it is false. The real contention here is most users who install software never read the entire Terms of Service that the developer laid-out. With the advent of Face-recognition technology and its wide adoption through our phones, it becomes apparent that our public-face becomes another form of biometric authentication. But unlike passwords which we keep secret from others (hopefully all our readers do), our faces are displayed publicly all the time, unless we wear a mask or a hijab.
FaceApp’s controversy is deeply rooted with its Terms of Service, stating that by installing and using the app, users are giving the app’s Russian developers the right to use the facial snapshots for whatever purpose it deemed desirable or something between those lines (we are not lawyers who can fully decipher lawyer-language in the Terms of service).
“Grant FaceApp a perpetual, irrevocable, nonexclusive, royalty-free, worldwide, fully-paid, transferable sub-licensable license to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, create derivative works from, distribute, publicly perform and display your User Content and any name, username or likeness provided in connection with your User Content in all media formats and channels now known or later developed, without compensation to you,” explained the FaceApp’s Terms of Service.
In their defense, FaceApp developers issued a statement downplaying the claims of facial image harvesting campaign that they were accused of. “We only upload a photo selected by a user for editing. We never transfer any other images from the phone to the cloud. We might store an uploaded photo in the cloud. The main reason for that is performance and traffic. Most images are deleted from our servers within 48 hours from the upload date. We accept requests from users for removing all their data from our servers. Our support team is currently overloaded, but these requests have our priority,” emphasized FaceApp’s spokesperson.