Popular FaceApp turns heads & raises privacy concerns

The Russian app is currently the most downloaded in Apple & Android stores

By Vic Micolucci - I-TEAM reporter, anchor

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - It’s the most popular app in the Apple and Android App stores, but Face App could be exposing users to new privacy risks.

Face App is a recently updated, free-of-charge service that uses artificial intelligence to let users see what they’ll look like as they age. They can also give themselves a new hair style, a beard and more.

Already, dozens of celebrities have shared their pictures on social media in what’s being called the #FaceAppChallenge.

But experts say the app, which appears to have been developed in Russia, opens up smart phones to hidden dangers that could allow hackers to steal personal information and use pictures in databases.

"I think I looked really bad," Jacob McKee quipped after first using the app.

"I thought was funny," replied McKee's girlfriend, Savanna Parker. "I look like my grandma. But he didn’t look too good."

Both acknowledged they gave the app full permission to pull content from their phones. It wasn't until after the fact that the consequences of that consent occurred to them.

"Oh God, don’t tell me that! I’m gonna cry," Parker said.

Cyber experts say beware: users are essentially unlocking their phones for the Russian app developer. The developer is gaining access legally because the users agree to their terms and conditions.

The News4Jax I-TEAM went to C7 Creative in Jacksonville Beach to learn more about the exposure.

"You literally can take over someone’s life from a digital standpoint," said founder Calvin Bryant.

C7 app designers at work

Bryant said C7 has been designing apps for years, but noted it is also used as a contractor to help stop malicious applications. He said he’s been a contractor on projects with the FBI.

Long story short, Bryant and his team of computer gurus know the dangers.

"If you’re downloading an app and giving an access to your mobile phone, you’re giving it access to your wallet," he said. "And just because you can’t see them creeping around in there and looking through your billfold and your credit cards, doesn’t mean that they’re not."

Androids are more vulnerable than iPhones, but no matter what, he said it’s likely your data has been compromised somehow somewhere already and it’s automatically added to databases.

"I would not use email for any of your sensitive information ever," Bryant added.

Experts recommend consumers stick with apps from developers you trust and also to read the fine print. If in doubt, skip the app and minimize the personal information you keep on your phone.

Parker and McKee said they weren’t taking any chances after learning about the risks of using the app.

"I believe it too," Parker said. "Oh gosh, I’m deleting that like right after this."

It's unclear what happens to your data if you remove the app from your device. According to Bryant, that might make a difference, but it's possible that your privacy has already been breached.

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