There’s a lot of buzz around FaceApp, a mobile application for iOS and Android developed by Russian company Wireless Lab which uses neural network technology to automatically generate highly realistic transformations of faces in photographs. The app is free, can transform a face to make it smile, look younger, look older, or change gender and is available on google Play and App store.
This particular app is nothing new, it’s just newly popular and rising to the top of the mind now, thanks to a few shiny updates since it made headlines in 2017.
The CEO Yaroslav Goncharov explained how the app was built in an interview with TechCrunch: “They are relatively low level/general use libraries that can be used to build almost anything,” he says, adding: “It took us eight months to release the first version of FaceApp, thanks to our prior background in deep learning and computer vision.”
It’s not without its fair share of controversy, and has even raised concern about privacy given the photo access involved. For context, other photo apps in this vein, like Ever, have been used to train the company’s facial recognition technology in the past.
While the privacy issues surrounding FaceApp have been prevalent, experts say this app isn’t that different than other apps that take data from users.
Craig Shue, an associate professor of computer science at Worcester Polytechnic Institute tells TIME the terms of service for this app appear to be pretty consistent with similar apps that use the cloud and that people have to decide how much of their data they’re willing to share.
“Its all about your tolerance for risk,” Shue says. “There is a trade-off here where people might be using the app because it’s entertaining. That comes with the cost that you’re giving your data to some other company to do what they want with it. In this case the user is giving this third party company a very high quality image of themselves that they can then do what they want with.”
Shue acknowledges that because a Russian company created the app, their privacy laws are different than the laws in the U.S. But, Shue says, the app doesn’t appear to operate suspiciously.
“People here generally don’t keep up with the laws in Russia, so they may think that they have more assurances about how their data is being maintained than what they actually do because its’ hosted in a foreign country,” Shue says.
Lorrie Cranor, the director of CyLab, Carnegie Mellon University’s security and privacy institute, says people who have concerns about FaceApp should also have them with other apps that take users’ data.
See photos of some celebrities who have already jumped on the trend…
The developer behind the app is based in St. Petersburg.