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FaceApp gets federal attention as Sen. Schumer raises alarm on data use

It’s been hard to get away from FaceApp over the last few days, whether it’s your friends posting weird selfies using the app’s aging and other filters, or the brief furore over its apparent (but not actual) circumvention of permissions on iPhones. Now even the Senate is getting in on the fun: Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has asked the FBI and the FTC to look into the app’s data handling practices.
“I write today to express my concerns regarding FaceApp,” he writes in a letter sent to FBI Director Christopher Wray and FTC Chairman Joseph Simons. I’ve excerpted his main concerns below:
In order to operate the application, users must provide the company full and irrevocable access to their personal photos and data. According to its privacy policy, users grant FaceApp license to use or publish content shared with the application, including their username or even their real name, without notifying them or providing compensation.
Furthermore, it is unclear how long FaceApp retains a user’s data or how a user may ensure their data is deleted after usage. These forms of “dark patterns,” which manifest in opaque disclosures and broader user authorizations, can be misleading to consumers and may even constitute a deceptive trade practices. Thus, I have serious concerns regarding both the protection of the data that is being aggregated as well as whether users are aware of who may have access to it.
In particular, FaceApp’s location in Russia raises questions regarding how and when the company provides access to the data of U.S. citizens to third parties, including potentially foreign governments.
For the cave-dwellers among you (and among whom I normally would proudly count myself) FaceApp is a selfie app that uses AI-esque techniques to apply various changes to faces, making them look older or younger, adding accessories, and, infamously, changing their race. That didn’t go over so well.
There’s been a surge in popularity over the last week, but it was also noticed that the app seemed to be able to access your photos whether you said it could or not. It turns out that this is actually a normal capability of iOS, but it was being deployed here in somewhat of a sneaky manner and not as intended. And arguably it was a mistake on Apple’s part to let this method of selecting a single photo go against the “never” preference for photo access that a user had set.
Fortunately the Senator’s team is not worried about this or even the unfounded (we checked) concerns that FaceApp was secretly sending your data off in the background. It isn’t. But it very much does send your data to Russia when you tell it to give you an old face, or a hipster face, or whatever. Because the computers that do the actual photo manipulation are located there — these filters are being applied in the cloud, not directly on your phone.
His concerns are over the lack of transparency that user data is being sent out to servers who knows where, to be kept for who knows how long, and sold to who knows whom. Fortunately the obliging FaceApp managed to answer most of these questions before the Senator’s letter was ever posted.

FaceApp responds to privacy concerns 

The answers to his questions, should we choose to believe them, are that user data is not in fact sent to Russia, the company doesn’t track users and usually can’t, doesn’t sell data to third parties, and deletes “most” photos within 48 hours.
Although the “dark patterns” of which the Senator speaks are indeed an issue, and although it would have been much better if FaceApp had said up front what it does with your data, this is hardly an attempt by a Russian adversary to build up a database of U.S. citizens.
While it is good to see Congress engaging with digital privacy, asking the FBI and FTC to look into a single app seems unproductive when that app is not doing much that a hundred others, American and otherwise, have been doing for years. Cloud-based processing and storage of user data is commonplace — though usually disclosed a little better.
Certainly as Sen. Schumer suggests, the FTC should make sure that “there are adequate safeguards in place to protect the privacy of Americans…and if not, that the public be made aware of the risks associated with the use of this application or others similar to it.” But this seems the wrong nail to hang that on. We see surreptitious slurping of contact lists, deceptive deletion promises, third-party sharing of poorly anonymized data, and other bad practices in apps and services all the time — if the federal government wants to intervene, let’s have it. But let’s have a law or a regulation, not a strongly worded letter written after the fact.
Schumer Faceapp Letter by TechCrunch on Scribd

FaceApp gets federal attention as Sen. Schumer raises alarm on data use

Browser maker Opera has filed to go public

Norway-based company Opera Ltd. has filed for an initial public offering in the U.S. According to its F-1 document, the company plans to raise up to $115 million.
In 2017, Opera generated $128.9 million in operating revenue, which led to a net income of $6.1 million.
While many people are already familiar with the web browser Opera, the company itself has had a tumultuous history. Opera shareholders separated the company into two different entities — the browser maker and the adtech operations.
The advertising company is now called Otello. And a consortium of Chinese companies acquired the web browser, the consumer products and the Opera brand. That second part is the one that is going public in the U.S.
Opera currently manages a web browser for desktop computers and a handful of web browsers for mobile phones. On Android, you can download Opera, Opera Mini and Opera Touch. On iOS, you’ll only find Opera Mini. More recently, the company launched a standalone Opera News app.
Overall, Opera currently has around 182 million monthly active users across its mobile products, 57.4 million monthly active users for its desktop browser and 90.2 million users for Opera News in its browsers and standalone app. There’s some overlap across those user bases.
More interestingly, Opera only makes money through three revenue sources. The main one is a deal with two search engines. Yandex is the default search engine in Russia, and Google is the default search engine in the rest of the world. As the company’s user base grows, partners pay more money to remain the default search engine.
“A small number of business partners contribute a significant portion of our revenues,” the company writes in its F-1 document. “In 2017, our top two largest business partners in aggregate contributed approximately 56.1% of our operating revenue, with Google and Yandex accounting for 43.2% and 12.9% of our operating revenue, respectively.”
The rest is ads and licensing deals. You may have noticed that Opera’s speed dial is pre-populated with websites by default, such as Booking.com or eBay. Those are advertising partners. Some phone manufacturers and telecom companies also pre-install Opera browsers on their devices. The company is getting some revenue from that too.
The browser market is highly competitive and Opera is facing tech giants such as Google, Apple and Microsoft. At the same time, people spend so much time in their browser that there is probably enough room for a small browser company like Opera. The company will be listed on NASDAQ under the symbol OPRA.

Browser maker Opera has filed to go public

Главредом «России сегодня» назначена Симоньян

Главным редактором нового государственного информагентства «Россия сегодня» стала руководитель телеканала Russia Today Маргарита Симоньян. Такое решение принял гендиректор «России сегодня» Дмитрий Киселев.
Главредом «России сегодня» назначена Симоньян

«Яндекс» поиск не продает. Пока в Москве

В январе «Яндекс» свернет коммерческое продвижение сайтов в поиске для пользователей, таргетированных в Москве. Об этом вчера на конференции IBC Russia заявил руководитель поискового сервиса «Яндекс» Александр Садовский.
«Яндекс» поиск не продает. Пока в Москве

«Спутник» на экране, в Twitter и YouTube

В офис телеканала Russia Today в Лондоне, расположенный на 16-м этаже высотки, будет регулярно наведываться депутат британского парламента Джордж Гэллоуэй. Он работает над программой «Спутник. На орбите с Джорджем Гэллоуэем».
«Спутник» на экране, в Twitter и YouTube