Technologies Require New Discussions on Balancing Security and Privacy

No one has been immune to the prank. Even preferring not to post their aged (or more rarely, rejuvenated) image on social networks, people have tested the free app. But not everyone is taking the news in a good mood. US Senate opposition leader Chuck Schumer of New York has just asked the FBI, the US Federal Police, to investigate FaceApp  .

A number of internet rumors have been spread about the misuse of users data by the application. While there is no evidence of vicious intent on the part of developers, the privacy policy is vague and allows the disclosure of data to third parties. US politicians have publicly voiced against the app’s spreading showing their concern about user safety. One of the alleged concerns is that the data is stored in St. Petersburg, Russia, with which the United States has historically fueled a series of hostilities – sometimes more veiled, others openly.

FaceApp, by means of a  note published on the TechCrunch technology website, previously denied any possibility of misuse of the data provided by the participants in the game. Wireless Lab, which is responsible for developing and disseminating the application, says it does not store images permanently and does not collect data, but only uploads user-selected photos to be automatically edited, in a process in which almost all information is deleted within 48 hours. Still, according to the note, the results can be obtained without logging in, and 99% of users act this way so that there is no access to one’s complementary data. They also add that, although most of the developers of the program are based in Russia, user data is not transferred to that country and information is not shared with third parties.

 Even if the concerns of the opposition politicians in the United States are considered exaggerated, the debate is over a technology, instant facial recognition, that has been causing much controversy in expert circles and is  starting to reach the public sphere of debate. Devices that allow this facility are evolving rapidly, and in some cases, there is the possibility of a large-scale application already. Installed in crowded places, such as subway systems, sports arenas, shopping malls, they have the potential to increase the level of security in critical environments, instantly tracking those who are present and may in some way pose a threat; they can help police find outlaws, authorities locate missing children, save kidnapped victims, and many other applications.

 However, the fear is that these technologies can also be used to harmful effects by vicious groups, or even to more serious crimes such as attacks. There is also concern about excessive state control in countries where the democratic system is not sufficiently developed, as a tool for political control of the population. Recently, China, which has some of the most advanced projects in this area such as startup   MegVii , has announced that it intends to start charging the  subway fare through a face recognition system soon. As it is widely acknowledged, that country, while admirable for its technological development and economic potential, is not exactly known for its internal democracy; thus, gathering accurate data from a huge number of people could be a very effective control tool for a one-party regime.

 In any case, the accelerated technological development we are experiencing in recent times, and which – no doubt – contributes to improving the quality of life, enhancing interpersonal relationships and the conditions for achievement and success, also needs, at each new step, to be evaluated and discussed by societies that maintain and deepen their democratic mechanisms.  And this is precisely the case of the United States, where the opposition is attentive, even if it is to verify at some point, as it seems, that FaceApp is just a gimmick with no major consequences.