Old-age challenge: is FaceApp really a Russian spy in digital form?

Concerns have been raised about the picture-filtering app's user agreement. We find out if your privacy is really under threat

23 July 2019 - 14:46 By tymon smith
Why wait a couple of decades to find out what you'll look like when you're old? An app can tell you now.
Why wait a couple of decades to find out what you'll look like when you're old? An app can tell you now.
Image: 123RF/Olena Yakobchuk

If you're on social media — and these days who isn't? — you may have noticed a recent, fierce trend of people posting photos using an app called FaceApp which gives you an idea of how you may look when old age catches up with you.

The app's old-age filter has been all the rage over the last few weeks with celebrities from LeBron James and Drake to our own Cassper Nyovest and Somizi using it to render themselves some years in the future.

Like similar apps which have swapped faces or shown you how you may look as a member of the opposite sex, it's all good fun and provides hours of distraction in the age of instant gratification and Instagram likes.

The app, which is owned by Wireless Lab, requires you to upload your photos to the company's "cloud" of servers in order for it to work its ageing wizardry.

This has raised fears over privacy issues, especially in light of the fact that the app's user agreement allows the company to use whatever images you upload for whatever purpose it sees fit - for eternity.

These fears were only heightened when it turned out that Wireless Lab's HQ is in Russia. Now in light of recent online problems that the US has had with Russia and the revelations of the Mueller report, you can see why Americans in particular have reacted with a certain hysteria and paranoia to the news.

The US's Democratic Party ordered all its staff and candidates running for the upcoming presidential elections in 2020 to immediately delete the app and not post seemingly innocuous pics of their virtually imagined older selves.

Deleting the app won't, however,  get rid of any photos of you that may currently be on the company's servers, FaceApp CEO's Yaroslav Goncharov told The Washington Post

Despite this, investigations by Forbes and other news organisations have shown that the FaceApp debacle is perhaps just another "storm in an internet teacup".

That's because while the company may be Russian, the servers it uses are primarily based in the US and other countries outside of the company's offices in St Petersburg, and are hosted by tech giant companies such as Amazon and Google.

Celebrities have taken to social media to show their future selves.Some age like a fine wine, while some don't. Here are some celebrities that have posted their old faces to social media.

This would mean that were the company to try to get data submitted to be handed over to Russia they would run into several brick walls when it came to accessing data hosted in other countries and in particular those hosted by servers in the US.

Goncharov also confirmed that the majority of the app's fans use it without having to provide their name or e-mail address, and that "most" of the photos uploaded to the company's servers are deleted within 48 hours.

So while the claim that the Russians are coming for your data may have sparked a hysterical reaction, it's unlikely that in reality this app poses any more privacy threats than many other similar ones.

If there's a lesson to be learned here it's that you should curb your narcissism and just grow old gracefully like normal people without needing to create an imagined version of how you might look were you to make it through the next 40 years of virtual insanity that will no doubt make this silly nonsense look like the internet equivalent of the steam engine.