AgeChallenge is a ‘Russian’ spying plot? Media reports feed conspiracy frenzy
“The Russians” are at it again, it seems. Reports in the mainstream press suggesting a popular photo editing app could be a Moscow data-grabbing plot have spread like wildfire online, where skeptics and believers had it out.
As social media users left and right used FaceApp to post their “aged” photos online, media reports posited that the program – rolled out in 2017 by Russian developers – may pose a danger to users’ privacy.
The first report appeared in Forbes, and while dismissing virtually all of the concerns raised, concluded the privacy issue may be nothing more than a “storm in an internet teacup.” That didn’t stop much of the MSM from picking up the story, putting the “Russia” angle front and center.
The New York and Washington Posts, Fox and Newsweek alike all led with Russia, some warning that “hackers tied to Russia’s government” might now have access to FaceApp users’ browsing habits – based only on the word of a “security expert.”
Social media soon got a hold of the theory, however, where it took on a life of its own.
“FaceApp is from Russia. You shouldn’t be using it,”wrote one concerned user, who continued: “Russia, the country that swung the 2016 election for Trump, is collecting your identity – your face” in preparation for “further election interference.”
A second commenter similarly requested that “people stop giving more data to the neural net,” as it will only “deep fake us out of another election.”
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“I downloaded FaceApp and less than 30 minutes later someone tried to login to my Apple Account in China,”said another user. “Not only are they collecting your data but they are selling your information as well.”
Some skeptical voices tried to dispel the alarmism.
Yeah, that’s a dubious link between the two events.
I don’t disagree that you should be careful of aps coming from Russia, but you’re gonna need further proof one caused the other. Does FaceApp even ask for an email address?
— lint (@lint2015) July 17, 2019
“Yeah, that’s a dubious link between the two events,” one level-headed person tweeted.
“It’s from Russia SO OF cOuRsE iTs BaD,” another said, mocking the alarmists. He suggested they forget politics for a moment and “Actually have a life. Go outside.”
Others pointed out that one did not have to go abroad to find invasive mobile applications, highlighting concerns with extremely popular US-based apps.
“If you’re worried about Russia and FaceApp, you’re not gonna believe what Google, Facebook and I assume this very website probably do for the US Government,” one person wrote, with another adding “Facebook is probably 10x as dangerous.”
FaceApp’s developers responded to the data-sharing allegations on Wednesday, maintaining they do not “sell or share any user data with any third parties,” and that no data is ever transferred to Russia.
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