By Mark Giancaspro, University of Adelaide
Viral photo app FaceApp has taken the world by storm. Launched in 2017, the app has recently enjoyed mass popularity due largely to Hollywood celebrities posting their humorous edited pictures online.
FaceApp uses “neural network” artificial intelligence technology to alter people’s faces with various filters. Users simply take or upload a photo from their phone and the app’s algorithms do the rest. You can make yourself look younger or older, swap your gender, or transform your expression.
The ageing filter is easily the most popular, with Drake, Hilary Duff, Gordon Ramsay and LeBron James among the celebrities who showcased their future faces on social media.
In short, once you sign up and use the app, the company can do pretty much whatever it likes with your photos. It could plaster a wrinkled version of your face across a billboard, website or the side of a skyscraper, and you would have no legal recourse.
Of course, as experts have correctly pointed out, this is extremely unlikely to happen. Russia’s only interest in your photo data would be for facial recognition software development. Wireless Lab has also publicly stated most photos are deleted within 48 hours of upload and no information is sent to Russia, but rather, is stored temporarily on the company’s American servers.
Other hidden dangers in the fine print
This is worrying, given that section 15 of FaceApp’s terms all but bans you from taking legal action against the company. You are only permitted to lodge small claims (up to certain limits) or seek specific court orders. You are otherwise required to resolve all legal disputes through confidential arbitration held in California.
Thankfully, you can opt-out of this provision — but you only have 30 days from registration to do so, meaning most of the app’s 100 million existing users are already too late.
For those who have recently bought into the hype, the clock is ticking. You can opt-out by sending written notification to:
Wireless Lab OOO
16 Avtovskaya 401
Saint-Petersburg, 198096, Russia
You must include your full name and indicate your clear intent to opt-out of binding arbitration. If you do this, standard Californian law applies and you retain your legal right to sue if you want.
If you downloaded FaceApp within the past week and you’re based in Australia, you’ll want to act quickly, given that letters take up to 14 business days to reach Russia via international post.
Section 17 of the terms is also concerning. This clause gives Wireless Lab the right to change the terms at any time, and states the company “may” attempt to notify users but will otherwise simply post the updated terms online.
Section 10 also deserves a mention. It states you will “indemnify, defend, and hold harmless” FaceApp and its “officers, directors, agents, partners and employees” from “any loss, liability, claim, demand, damages, expenses or costs” relating to your use of the app.
Basically, you cannot sue them for any loss or injury you suffer through the app (such as damaged reputation or embarrassment caused by Wireless Lab using your photos). It also means you agree to cover all legal fees for third-party claims against FaceApp arising from your use of the app, yet you surrender all control over the legal action.
In stark terms, this means you effectively can’t sue FaceApp, and if anyone else tries, you’re picking up the bill.
Is it worth it?
FaceApp is undeniably fun, and is currently the most popular free app in Australia, ahead of Instagram and YouTube. Downloads of the app to US iPhones have increased by 561% in the past month.
Any playful app that spreads joy can be a good thing. It is crucial, however, that users know what they are signing up for, otherwise many of their legal rights will vanish and their legal exposure will be extraordinary.
As if wrinkled skin and grey hair weren’t bad enough.
You can help us (and help yourself)
Small and medium businesses and startups have never needed credible, independent journalism and information more than now.
That’s our job at SmartCompany: to keep you informed with the news, interviews and analysis you need to manage your way through this unprecedented crisis.
Now, there’s a way you can help us keep doing this: by becoming a SmartCompany supporter.
Even a small contribution will help us to keep doing the journalism that keeps Australia’s entrepreneurs informed.