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US Democratic Leaders Warn of FaceApp's Security, Privacy Risks


FaceApp is displayed on an iPhone Wednesday, July 17, 2019, in New York. The popular app is under fire for privacy concerns. (AP Photo/Jenny Kane)
US Democratic Leaders Warn of FaceApp's Security, Privacy Risks
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Democratic Party leaders are warning that FaceApp, a photo-editing smartphone application developed in Russia, could present “national security and privacy risks for millions of U.S. citizens.”

FaceApp uses artificial intelligence to show a person what they may look like as they age. Users of the app -- including Hollywood celebrities -- have been sharing their results on social media. It is currently the top free app available on Apple’s app store.

On Wednesday, U.S. Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer called on the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Federal Trade Commission to investigate FaceApp. In a letter to FBI and FTC leadership, Schumer said the app requires users to give it “full and irrevocable access to their personal photos and data.”

Also on Wednesday, the Democratic National Committee sent a message to the party’s 2020 presidential candidates warning them against using the app.

In the email, first reported by CNN, the party’s security chief urged Democratic presidential campaigns to remove the app immediately if anyone on their staff had already used it.

FaceApp launched in 2017. It was developed by Wireless Lab, a company based in St. Petersburg, Russia. FaceApp says on its website that it has over 80 million active users.

FaceApp has been criticized for not clearly communicating to users that it uploads images onto a shared “cloud” rather than processing the image results on an individual user’s device.

There is no evidence that FaceApp provides user data to the Russian government.

Democrats have tried to improve their party’s cyber defenses since the 2016 presidential campaign. U.S. intelligence agencies found that Russia had used hacking as part of an effort to help the campaign of Donald Trump. Russia has repeatedly denied those claims.

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) speaks to reporters after the weekly Democratic caucus luncheon at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S. June 11, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) speaks to reporters after the weekly Democratic caucus luncheon at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S. June 11, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

In his letter, Schumer said it is not clear how the app keeps the data of users. It also is not clear how people can be sure that the app removes their data after usage.

Schumer also said the company’s connection to Russia raises questions about how FaceApp lets other groups, including foreign governments, gain access to the data of American citizens.

In a statement published by several media organizations, FaceApp has denied selling or sharing user data with others.

FaceApp also said most images are removed from its servers within 48 hours of the upload date. It said most people who use the app do not log in, so the company is not able to identify individuals. And, it said that while the company’s research and development team is based in Russia, the user data is not transferred to Russia.

I’m Jonathan Evans.

Reuters reported this story. Ashley Thompson adapted it for VOA Learning English. Hai Do was the editor.

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Words in This Story

edit - v. to change, move, or remove parts of (a film, recording, photo, etc.)

irrevocable - adj. not capable of being changed

access - n. a way of being able to use or get something

hack - v. to secretly get access to the files on a computer or network in order to get information, cause damage, etc.

upload - v. to move or copy (a file, program, etc.) from a computer or device to a usually larger computer or computer network

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