Why is the FaceApp trending

FaceApp right on trend : The pros and cons of automatic face recognition

It makes the internet world look pretty old right now: FaceApp. With the smartphone program, users can test how their own reflection will change in 20, 30 or 40 years.

When looking at the social networks, it becomes clear that many celebrities have also found a new favorite toy in the app: instead of perfectly styled, they show themselves on Instagram, Facebook and Co. with wrinkles and gray hair.

A real competition for the scariest future image has emerged, in which the US singer Sam Smith, model Heidi Klum and Green politician Cem Özdemir have already participated.

But privacy advocates warn: The app stores masses of photos and sensitive data that could also be passed on to third parties.

How does FaceApp work?

If you want to age artificially, you first have to upload a portrait picture of yourself via the smartphone app. The intelligent software then places a filter over the photo. In doing so, she adds wrinkles, processes hair and beard color and lets the bags under the eyes grow. The basic equipment of the app can be used free of charge. However, users have to pay for additional functions such as a makeup filter - either a one-time fee of 44 euros or an annual subscription of 20 euros.

Who is behind the program?
The image manipulation was developed by the Russian software company Wireless Lab from Saint Petersburg. The company is working on several smartphone apps, but has now made the breakthrough with FaceApp. The program is not new at all. Users have been able to download it for two years. Its inventor, Yaroslav Goncharov, is a programmer and previously worked for Yandex, the most famous search engine in Russia. He also worked temporarily for Microsoft as a developer.

What data does FaceApp store?

FaceApp does not edit the photos directly on the user's smartphone. Instead, the app first sends the original version of the portrait images to a third-party server in order to then overlay the aging filter. In addition, users must grant the app access to the entire photo library. Privacy advocates see this as a great danger. "Here you hand over a photo of yourself or others, which can be biometrically evaluated, so can be assigned to you, to an unknown person," said the Federal Data Protection Commissioner Ulrich Kelber (SPD) the Südwestrundfunk. In addition, FaceApp also stores the user data, the location and the IP address. This allows people to be identified beyond any doubt.

What happens to the data?

With the download, users agree that FaceApp may use all data indefinitely and irrevocably - even for commercial purposes. In return, FaceApp grants itself the right to pass on some information to partners. It also seems unclear into which hands the data could end up in the long term. If the app is sold, the data could completely pass to the new owner. The leader of the Democrats in the US Senate, Chuck Schumer, even asked the FBI to take a closer look at the app. The app, which is operated from Russia, could pose a national security risk as well as a danger to millions of US citizens because of the way it handles personal data, he wrote on the short message service Twitter. FaceApp inventor Goncharov defends himself against the allegations. His company did not edit the photos on Russian computers, but on the servers of Amazon and Google in the USA, according to a statement. In addition, only those photos are used that a user has consciously selected for processing. And the data is not passed on to third parties either.

Where else is face recognition used?

Technology has made great strides and has spread widely over the past few years. For example, many new smartphones now offer face recognition as an alternative to fingerprints or PINs to unlock the device. According to manufacturers such as Apple, the data is encrypted and only stored on the device itself. For almost ten years, Facebook has had a feature that automatically identifies and tags people in photos. In Europe, it was switched off in 2012 after protests, and facial recognition has been offered again since last year. In the course of adjusting the settings for the General Data Protection Regulation, users also had to specify whether they wanted to use the function or not.

Which other databases with portraits are there?

Facebook is said to use a collection of ten million profile pictures to train its algorithms. Google a database of eight million portraits. In addition to the large technology companies, security authorities also have biometric databases. Interpol is building a database that already contains at least 120,000 photos. Authorities from various countries, including the BKA, cooperate in the "Facial Recognition Working Group". Microsoft recently took one of the largest collections offline. The "MS Celeb" database, which was used to train AI systems for face recognition, contained 10,000,000 images of around 100,000 people. However, since Chinese companies such as Sensetime and Megvii have also used this, it was shut down in April.

How can abuse be prevented?

Microsoft's chief legal counsel Brad Smith warned of the dangers of facial recognition technology in December and called for stricter laws. "We need to make sure 2024 doesn't look like a page from George Orwell's 1984 book," Smith warned. Google said it would not offer its facial recognition software commercially until political issues were resolved. In the spring, San Francisco became the first city in the US to prohibit the use of facial recognition by authorities. The mission "threatens our ability to live free from constant government observation," the decision said.

Where does intelligent software observe people in Germany?

For example at the Berlin-Südkreuz train station. A few weeks ago, intelligent video surveillance started its second pilot phase there. Software should automatically recognize dangerous situations - for example, if someone is lying on the ground or there is a sudden gathering of people. Around 80 cameras are installed on the station premises for this purpose. In contrast to the first test last year, no face recognition is used this time. At the time, data protectionists sharply criticized the fact that the Federal Police's software automatically identifies and compares people. Nevertheless, such a system could soon catch on. The responsible Federal Ministry of the Interior said at the end of the test that the company is confident about a broad introduction. The error rate was less than 0.1 percent on average. The software mistook one in a thousand passengers for another person.

In China, face recognition is already normal in everyday life and should bring security. What else does she bring?

In the course of the advancing development of Artificial Intelligence in China, it is above all the technology of face recognition that is playing an increasingly important role and that will fundamentally affect people's everyday lives. The technology was tested for the first time in 2008 shortly after the Olympic Games in China more than ten years ago. Face recognition has been in use across the country in a wide variety of fields since 2015.
In more and more supermarkets in China, payments can be made using facial recognition based on AliPay and WeChat Pay. In addition, the technology is supposed to save long waiting times in administrative matters and banking or in the field of medical treatment and is therefore becoming more and more common. In the city of Jinan in Shandong Province, for example, passengers can no longer access the subway with tickets or their smartphones, but since April 1 they can also use face scans. This is made possible by the “Jinan Metro” app, with which 33 people per minute can pass through the entrance gates of the subway. In Shanghai, the corresponding paper allocation in public toilets is triggered by a smile in a camera machine.
The security authorities in China are also increasingly using facial recognition technology in the fight against illegal activities. According to the state-run Xinhua news agency, 120 face scanners have been installed in Jinan alone to detect pedestrians or drivers crossing the traffic light when it is red. As a result, the number of traffic offenders fell sharply.
The Chinese start-up Megvii Technology prides itself on reducing fraud, optimizing traffic flow and increasing work efficiency through its facial recognition technology.

Which companies are behind the developments in China?

The Chinese internet giants such as Alibaba and Tencent are increasingly advocating the commercial use of facial recognition.
In 2017, the MIT Technology Review declared "face payment" to be one of the ten groundbreaking technologies worldwide. Global market research firm Allied Market Research predicts that the facial recognition technology market will grow to around $ 10 billion by 2022. Megvii Technology and the start-up SenseTime are considered to be the most powerful facial recognition systems in the world. Megvii is backed by the Alibaba Group and is known for its open source facial recognition platform called Face ++, which currently more than 300,000 developers use to create their own facial recognition programs. Founded in 2011 by three students from the elite Tsinghua University, it is valued at two billion US dollars. Megvii recently raised $ 750 million from investors and plans to go public this year. SenseTime is said to be worth $ 4.5 billion and has just signed an agreement to build Malaysia’s first AI park - a $ 1 billion project.

How does the government in Beijing control its citizens with technology?

The Chinese government wants to use the data for a so-called social credit system. The aim is to collect data about people and, in a personal points account, citizens and companies can get plus points through exemplary behavior and get minus points for bad behavior. This system should take effect throughout China as early as next year. Currently, according to figures from the State Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), more than five million people are no longer allowed to take the train. More than 25 million were recently banned from buying flight tickets. They haven't behaved well and their details and identities are held in that black box of the Chinese government - possibly forever.

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