- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 3, 2019

The FBI considers FaceApp, a popular smartphone application for manipulating photos, a “potential counterintelligence threat” due to its Russian origins, a letter showed Monday.

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, released a letter he received after raising concerns about FaceApp with both the FBI and Federal Trade Commission.

“The FBI considers any mobile application or similar product developed in Russia, such as FaceApp, to be a potential counterintelligence threat, based on the data the product collects, its privacy and terms of use policies, and the legal mechanisms available to the Government of Russia that permits access to data within Russia’s borders,” wrote Jill C. Tyson, assistant director for the bureau’s Office of Congressional Affairs.

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Russia’s intelligence services maintain “robust cyber exploitation capabilities,” including the ability to “remotely access all communications and servers on Russian networks,” Ms. Tyson added.

Developed by Wireless Lab, a company based in St. Petersburg, FaceApp was launched in 2017. Several celebrities shared photographs on social media this summer that had been manipulated using the app to alter their appearances, sparking a surge in popularity and scrutiny alike that saw Mr. Schumer raising concerns with both the FBI and FTC in July.

Reached for comment, FaceApp CEO Yaroslav Goncharov directed The Washington Times to an updated privacy policy put in place this week.

“We do not use the photographs you provide when you use the App for any reason other than to provide you with the portrait editing functionality of the App,” the policy says in part.

Mr. Goncharov previously addressed concerns surrounding the app during a recent forum in Moscow.

“It was a PR problem,” he said in October. “There was no actual privacy problem, and all allegations were debunked by security researchers.

Mr. Schumer seemed unconvinced, however.

“The personal data FaceApp collects from a user’s device could end up in the hands of Russian intelligence services,” Mr. Schumer told The New York Post. “It is simply not worth the risk.”

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