Whilst looking online this morning, I noticed that the ageing app FaceApp is doing the rounds again. It’s trending worldwide on Twitter, with (I am guessing here) thousands of pictures created via the service and shared via social media
At the time of writing, Twitter is showing two fun, easy-to-distract-people trends: #WorldEmojiDay and, of course, #FaceApp.
The problem when things go viral, is that the more people see #FaceApp trending, the more people will take part. Simple as that. This, as many of you will know, is classic Herd Mentality.
I’LL DO WHAT EVER THEY DO
Herding refers to a person’s tendency to follow and copy what others are doing, mainly based on instinct rather than through any of their own independent research or analysis. Now of course this herd instinct can lead to fun. It’s more enjoyable to do things with other people. Think of the amount of non-cricket fans who came together, followed the trend, to watch England win the Cricket World Cup.
But it can also sometimes work against you.
As with anything that instigates herd mentality, the sound advice is to take a step back and slow down, especially when apps like FaceApp start to trend. Whilst they are obviously popular, and offer a moment of fun, light-hearted enjoyment, there can be serious unintended consequences, especially when it comes to your privacy.
And herein lies one of the biggest problems with herd mentality; our privacy tends to go out of the window when we get swept up in the trend… when we join in with the crowd and go along for the ride. By joining in so easily, without pausing to think, especially about the potential impact of our actions, we are opening ourselves up to a potential world of trouble.
THE DIFFUSION OF RESPONSIBILITY
Herd mentality leads to what is known as a diffusion of responsibility. This means, in this instance, that the entire herd has assumed that someone else has, or will, take responsibility for making sure everything is OK. That this app is actually safe to use and won’t come back to haunt us in the future. That everyone’s data is being protected and not used for someone else’s benefit – nefarious or not. Surely this is even more important since the recent Cambridge Analytica/Facebook scandal broke.
So here’s the direct question. If you used FaceApp recently, did you check the privacy notice? Do you know that your data is safe?
SEARCH FOR THE EVIDENCE
Mooch around and there are some interesting points that I believe people should at least be considering BEFORE being swept up in the FaceApp trend and taking that selfie.
Point 1: The app uses a picture of you and then uploads it to the cloud to process. They do this without your explicit permission, meaning that your image has now left your ‘local’ mobile device and is on someone else’s server. FaceApp uses complex algorithms to edit the photos, algorithms that can’t simply be installed on your phone when you use the app. This means that your image must be uploaded to a FaceApp server for processing, meaning a copy of your photo is now with the app developers. So who are they?
Point 2: Not meaning to sound like a bunker-dwelling conspiracy theorist here, but it’s worth noting that the app is developed by a team from Saint Petersburg in Russia, who say they have built the tech in-house using open source AI. Of course this absolutely does not mean anything untoward will occur. What’s more important to note however, is the country of origin of the app and keep in mind the different data protection regulations between countries, albeit the service is governed by the laws of California.
Point 3: On that note, it’s worth pointing out that the privacy notice of FaceApp is pretty vague. Yes, you retain the rights to your images, but they keep a copy. Their privacy terms also indicate it also keeps metadata from photos and may identify or track you with cookies. Finally, their notice states that whilst they will not share or sell your photos, any data it collects from you could be anonymised and used for advertising or other purposes.
Now, maybe I’ve watched far too many movies, or am simply overloaded with news about politicians winning elections using dodgy techniques, but I can genuinely image a situation where a whole bunch of fake accounts have been created using photos of people from an app. I’m absolutely not saying that is the case – don’t get me wrong. I’m just hypothesising.
And please don’t take what I’m writing here as your fact-base either. You should, and can, find this information out with little effort. Remember, seeking out evidence and updating your fact-based knowledge is the best way to eliminate any confirmation bias in your thinking.
Overall, from a behavioural perspective, we need to be careful not to get swept up in trends, and fall into a herd mentality that you enjoy momentarily, but someone else benefits from in the long term.
We should be uber-careful when it comes to using apps like FaceApp, especially when they are requesting access to our most personal data. We should have our own safeguards in place to protect our data (yes, including our photos) and we should pause, slow down, and question the motives and methods of any mobile app that we are giving access to.
Going into deliberate thinking mode, slowing down, and analysing the evidence before making a decision is the best safeguard we have. It’s within our power to protect ourselves and in doing so, protect the most valuable asset we have, our personal data.