Every few years, the popular photo editing app known as “FaceApp” seems to surface into popularity yet again. This happened most recently just last month, and for a week it seemed like my entire Instagram and Twitter feeds were nothing but artificially-aged (albeit frighteningly accurate looking) versions of everyone’s selfies. While there’s all kinds of ways to edit your photos with FaceApp, much of its viral status has been credited to the “aging” filter, which offers users a glimpse at what they could look like decades into the future.
It’s easy to see why the app is so popular. In less than a minute, you can sign up, upload a selfie, and access all kinds of editing features beyond the standard offerings on your phone. While uploading a single photo seems harmless, it’s what’s happening behind the scenes that is a bit more troubling. After all, it didn’t take long for the alarming language in their terms and conditions to get called out online. TL:DR; by using the app, you’re granting FaceApp permission to access and use any of your photos for pretty much whatever they want. Yikes.
Unlike past years, it seemed like this time people were somewhat more aware of the privacy concerns that come with downloading and using an app like this. Privacy advocates and regular internet users alike were quick to broadcast the shady sounding practices in the fine print, like the tweet above. However, what I found even more troubling than the privacy violations were user’s unapologetically apathetic responses to it. I scrolled through hundreds of tweets to the tune of “all of our information is out there anyways” or “the Internet already has all my photos.”
It’s not to say I haven’t felt this exact way myself. As a self-proclaimed privacy advocate, there’s no good reason for why I still haven’t deactivated my Facebook account, or why I’ll download an app like FaceApp without much of a second thought. But when I start to think about how widespread and complex privacy violations are on the internet, it’s hard to not become overwhelmed and give up. However, the argument that “privacy is dead” is misleading and attempts to justify all sorts of creepy, invasive practices by government agencies and big corporations alike. In an article titled “Online Privacy Isn’t Dead–If We Fight For It,” executive director of Freedom of The Press Foundation Trevor Trimm says “Privacy isn’t about hiding or concealing wrongdoing–it’s about comfort and control of your personal life.”
Simply put, you shouldn’t have to justify your right to privacy. Privacy measures don’t exist purely to cover up things we’re ashamed or embarrassed of. Privacy in every aspect of our lives (communications, finances, health, technology use, etc.) helps us maintain a sense of autonomy, trust, and identity. While we may not always know or understand the ways in which our personal data is being accessed and commodified, simply paying attention to the next viral app or pausing before agreeing to the next set of terms and conditions may be a good place to start.
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