Fun photo-editing apps are nothing new. You’ve probably taken a photo or two with dog ears.
When Snapchat created the puppy filter back in 2015, everyone—including celebrities and politicians—was using it. New York magazine even ran a post exploring how the filter that dominated the social media landscape made everyone look so good.
In 2019, Russian-owned FaceApp found itself at the center of a controversy when the FBI issued a warning calling it and other apps developed in Russia “potential counterintelligence threats.” According to the FBI, concerns were raised about the amount of access FaceApp had to photos and other forms of data on a user’s phone.
FaceApp was best known for allowing users to find out how they’ll look in 50 years and changing their genders.
This year, Voilà took center stage as the app of choice for fun photos. The app, which morphs its users into Pixar and Disney-inspired characters, has been downloaded over 2.3 million times in the U.S. alone. But is it safe?
How safe are photo-editing apps?
Powered by AR, photo-manipulation apps have access to photos of individuals’ faces, so they usually also have access to biometric information such as facial features, speech data, and sometimes retina patterns, which can all be used to identify users.
Beyond that, these apps usually ask for permission to access location, contacts (so users can invite their friends onto the app), and even social media accounts—all of which are unnecessary for the apps to work.
Voilà actually requires an internet connection to operate—which should make users consider what we’re giving up in exchange for adorable photos.
Should you stop using photo apps?
When the controversy hit, FaceApp shared that it might store updated photos created on their platform in the cloud for performance and traffic reasons but that most images are deleted within 48 hours.
Such vague statements make it difficult to truly pinpoint where a user’s photo could actually end up or even obtain evidence that their photos have been disposed of properly.
Ultimately, it’s entirely up to users to decide if the risks of having their data exposed in exchange for Disneyfied pictures are worth it. Anytime you give a company access to your photos, you’re giving them information that could live on their servers forever. Similarly, anytime you post your face online to show off your meme-ified look, it could live on the internet forever.
How to protect yourself when using photo filters
While we’d never stop you from using photo manipulation or editing apps, here are some things you can do to protect yourself:
- Do your research
Before you download an app, check its legitimacy. Scam apps can come in all shapes and sizes, and they’re a common occurrence in Apple’s App Store and Google’s Play Store. Here are several ways you can identify a fake app.
2. Restrict permissions
Before you agree to give apps permission to access all your data, figure out why they’re asking for such data and whether it’s worth giving them permission for it. For example, if you want to prevent these apps from getting access to your contacts but still want to use the photo functions, let them access your camera but not your contacts.
3. Delete your accounts after use
We understand the attraction of photo filters apps. Just really want to create a photo of yourself as a Disney character? Or animate a still photograph? Once you’ve tried it, satisfied your curiosity, and downloaded the pictures to your phone, best to just delete your account.
What are your favorite photo filters or apps? Let us know in the comments!