Thank God for technology. How else would we know what Gordon Ramsay would look like at 92? Or the Jonas Brothers as septuagenarian has-been heartthrobs. Or Ludacris, still furious but somewhat less fast a few decades down the line.
FaceApp, a nifty download that can age you decades with a single snapshot, is filling the Web with geriatrics - and raising as many eyebrows as it has greyed. The product had a flare of popularity that petered out two years ago amid criticism that its "ethnicity filters" were a form of digital blackface. This time the concern is about privacy. Americans may have finally realised that something is rotten on the internet. But do they understand what that something is?
The criticism of FaceApp is, essentially, that it's an app. It offers you something fun, but it takes something in return: in this case, your personal information, and lots of it. That includes irrevocable and royalty-free rights to the pictures you upload, which according to FaceApp's terms of service, it can repurpose for pretty much whatever it wants. You also agree to surrender classic tracking data such as IP address and websites visited.
All this makes FaceApp pretty much like everyone else. If you're not paying for a tool with cash, you're probably paying some other way. Your weather app might not only tell data brokers where you've been and when, but it also might have tapped into your camera. And don't get me started on your favorite game featuring adorable cartoon critters. Some smartphone tools do ask first for your information, if opaquely. Some don't bother. Almost every website on the internet, including this one, has embedded trackers.
Americans have some ambient awareness of these ubiquitous practices, but surveys suggest that's about where it stops. The concerns about FaceApp only really arose when amateur investigators pointed out that the company was based in Russia, prompting speculation that Vladimir Putin was amassing American photos to train facial recognition software or serve some other odious end. But it turns out FaceApp's servers live in the United States, and so far, there's no evidence of any dastardly plot to transfer what's collected back to the motherland. The KGB isn't going to come knocking because you thought it would be funny to have artificial intelligence stick a beard on your face.