- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 17, 2019

FaceApp, a photo-editing program at the center of a current social media trend, responded Wednesday to concerns raised over its Russian origins.

The company behind the viral app issued a statement in response to reports this week about apparent risks taken by its millions of smartphone users.

FaceApp does not share or sell user data, nor is any information stored in Russia where most of the app’s research and development team is located, the statement said.

The company also denied that every photo stored on a user’s phone is surreptitiously uploaded to a Russian server under its control, countering a claim that circulated online this week amid FaceApp experiencing a surge in popularity.

Launched by St. Petersburg-based Wireless Lab in early 2017, FaceApp allows users to apply filters to photographs capable of making the subject seem like a different age or gender.

Several celebrities recently shared photographs of themselves on social media that had been edited using the app to make them appear older, starting a trend that subsequently resulted in the app facing heightened scrutiny.

Several social media users and some mainstream outlets soon claimed that FaceApp was seemingly siphoning entire collections of photographs from the smartphones of users without their permission and sending them to a server in Russia, raising concerns about user data being weaponized or otherwise exploited.

FaceApp does store user photographs in the cloud, the company acknowledged, albeit only the images that are selected to be edited. Images are processed in the cloud rather than the user’s device, and those photographs are then usually stored for 48 hours for performance and traffic purposes, FaceApp said in a statement, TechCrunch first reported.

“We upload only a photo selected for editing. You can quickly check this with any of network sniffing tools available on the internet,” said the statement.

None of the data is stored in Russia despite the company’s location, the statement said. Yaroslav Goncharov, FaceApp’s founder, has since told TechCrunch that the app uploads selected photos to servers operated by Amazon and Google, the site reported.

Will Strafach, a San Francisco-based mobile security researcher, independently reported that he was unable to find any evidence of FaceApp uploading users’ photos without their permission.

FaceApp has been downloaded more than 80 million times for Apple and Android devices in the 2½ years since it was launched.

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