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Opinion: FaceApp fails risk-reward test

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I broke my own cardinal rule.

For years, I’ve preached constant vigilance when perusing the internet.

But I, like many others, became a digital victim when I was tempted into using the now-controversial FaceApp in order to see myself as an old man. What harm could come of that, I thought to myself, quickly downloading the photo editing app to my iPhone.

Turns out, potential harm to my likeness – and that of my wife and children – is at stake.

Through FaceApp, users can upload pictures easily edited in a number of ways: the most popular being a feature that ages someone, gray hair and wrinkles included. The results were amusing – particularly seeing my wife and daughters as old women – but upon discovery of the true intentions of the app, those few seconds of glee clearly weren’t worth the price of admission.

As with many things online, this comes down to the fine print.

FaceApp’s terms of service state use of the app grants the company “a perpetual, irrevocable, nonexclusive, royalty-free, worldwide, fully paid, transferable sub-licensable license to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, create derivative works from, distribute, publicly perform and display your user content and any name, username or likeness provided in connection with your user content in all media formats and channels now known or later developed, without compensation to you.”

That’s a tough pill to swallow. Upon reading about these concerning terms of service in media reports, I quickly deleted the app.

Further, the app was developed by Russian company Wireless Lab, spurring national security concerns. It was enough for Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer to call for an investigation into FaceApp.

Others are downplaying the issue.

“While your data has the potential to be used in a way you might not like, it’s not significantly more likely than all of the other ways in which your data is currently shared, used or sold,” said David Inserra, a policy analyst at The Heritage Foundation think tank, in an article by The Daily Signal.

The terms of service for Facebook and Twitter have similar language regarding content its users share on the social media platforms.

Far from being reassuring, Inserra’s comment about other companies doing the exact same thing is a stark reminder: If you’re not paying for the product, you are the product.

In the current era of the internet, services – especially the freebies – tend to present a risk versus reward scenario. How valuable is your privacy compared with the entertainment or information you garner from an app?

For me, the ability to keep in touch with my family and friends on Facebook is worth it. But the FaceApp controversy does have me thinking twice about uploading new content online.

Consider the risk-reward test. If the risk outweighs the reward, the app isn’t worth keeping.

As other apps are sure to emerge with similar policies, do as I say, not as I do. Remember to be vigilant.

And if you don’t have time to read the terms of service, at least do a Google search to see if anything concerning pops up.

A few seconds of entertainment generally aren’t worth even a moment of grief.

Springfield Business Journal Web Editor Geoff Pickle can be reached at gpickle@sbj.net.

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