HS Insider

Opinion: Your online data may not truly belong to you

Caption: FaceApp in the iOS App Store that is currently available for download. (Image by Stella J. Hong)

With the increase of new phone applications being developed and as social media overtakes the daily lives of people, phone users are becoming more wary of how much information applications and websites truly have access to.

“[Online] privacy is important to users, as there is almost always something we wouldn’t want others to know about us,” said Jeffrey Liao, a rising junior majoring in computer science at Boston University. Many viral applications are causing users to question the validity of the applications’ Terms of service and privacy policy. 

One iOS and Android application has gained national popularity for its seemingly amusing, unique qualities which, according to Business Insider, raked in 12 million first-time users in only a one week period.

This application is called FaceApp, a free mobile application that uses artificial intelligence to transform the user’s face using filters. FaceApp uses an aging feature, which turns pictures that users upload of themselves into an elderly person in less than 20 seconds.

With over 800,000 ratings and 4.7 stars out of 5, this application has quickly gained popularity as celebrities such as LeBron James, Carrie Underwood and Gordon Ramsey posted selfies of themselves using FaceApp on social media. 

However, users became cautious of FaceApp, after taking a closer look at the Terms of Service of the application. By clicking to agree the Terms of service, FaceApp users are allowing the application to “use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, create derivative works from, distribute, publicly perform and display your user content and any name.”

In other words, this application gains almost full control and the rights of the pictures users upload. The privacy policy, which exists traditionally to protect the user’s rights, is unclear and fails to note the specificities regarding the application. 

This is not where the story ends. Forbes conducted an interview with Yaroslav Goncharov, the founder of FaceApp, who explained why the terms of service is so broad.

According to Goncharov, who told Forbes, the “current privacy policy [of FaceApp] is very similar to what Instagram has.”

A majority of social media applications that require the uploading and sharing of pictures have similar terms of service, but FaceApp, created only two years ago, doesn’t have the years of credibility and trust that multi-billion dollar social media applications, such as Instagram or Snapchat, have.

Goncharov tells Forbes that the new FaceApp terms and policies will most likely remove the phrases that insinuate FaceApp’s total control over users’ pictures. 

FaceApp isn’t the only company suffering from a viral hoax. An Instagram repost, which claims that Instagram is now changing its privacy policy, has gone viral.

The hoax claims that to block Instagram from accessing all data, all users must state in a public post: “With this statement, I give notice to Instagram it is strictly forbidden to disclose, copy, distribute, or take any other action against me based on this profile and/or its contents.”

Many users, including head of the United States Department of Energy Rick Perry, began to repost this phrase in Instagram stories and in public posts to their followers. However, this post was debunked by the chief of Instagram, Adam Mosseri, who posted that anyone who sees this viral meme should be aware that “it’s not true.” 

 “Internet security is important because users need to be able to work in a safe environment,” said Brian Vu, the Fullerton Squadron 56 CyberPatriot coach.

Whether it be through FaceApp or Instagram, users are becoming increasingly vigilant in the whereabouts of their own online data and information. 

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