August , 2019
Apps mining data
14:10 pm

Shinjini Mukherjee

FaceApp, which is an image-enhancing mobile application, has taken the Indian social media by storm. News feeds across social networks are being flooded with well-designed ‘old age’ images of individuals using that particular image filter in FaceApp.  The app has been around since 2017 and has been downloaded 80 million times.
It is owned by a Russian company, which retains all rights over the data that is uploaded in it.

War-cry over FaceApp

There are claims that once a user uses this app, he/she provides all his/her images and other data to the company controlling this app. There is anxiety that such data might be used for unscrupulous activities. While using this app, the user is sending well-lit, detailed images of him/her to the app and these images can also be potentially used to profile the user or used as fake images for various crimes.

Apps collecting personal data

It is not only FaceApp that has access to the user’s infor-mation. Data shared in most social networking sites are also accessible by companies owning these apps. Most users agree to this without reading the details of the privacy policy. If a user reads the privacy policies, the user will know that he/she is agreeing to sell off his personal data. This is part of computational propaganda (Oxford Internet Institute) where data is used to manipulate public opinion. There is misinformation and illegal data harvesting associated with the idea of computational propaganda.

When a user installs any app, he/she is supplying information about his/her email ID, phone number and geographic location. The same happens when you participate in psychology tests on Facebook. When you embark on discovering which Harry Potter character fits you the most, your data is being collected and stored. There is well organised micro targeting of individual profiles. They match your cell phone number, email id, geographic location and user history on social media sites to create a profile related to your socio-economic background. Now, that gets aggravated when you have things like Aadhaar card linked to your data. It expands the risk of your data being stolen.

An international affair

There is a lot of talk about how FaceApp is a Russian company that is stealing data. But it doesn’t really matter whether it’s a Chinese company or one based in California. All can have access to your data.

Germany and many European Union Countries are putting stringent restrictions on data privacy. The European Union has come up with General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which has been enforced in 2018. The GDPR aims to protect and empower all EU citizens regarding data privacy.

Dr. Sangeeta Mahapatra, Research Associate at the German Institute of Global and Area Studies, Hamburg, told BE, “Data privacy laws are still a work in progress. They need to be bolstered by anti-trust laws. The situation in European countries, which have such laws, is better than in India where a data privacy law needs to be passed urgently.
The harvesting of citizensʼ data from apps and social media by unscrupulous elements can harm the citizens and subvert democratic processes. Data theft is a real and present danger for the country.” 

It seems that keeping one secure on social media isn’t just a choice. It is also dependent on the choices of friends. If your friends choose to import contacts on social media, it might put your information at risk too. In addition, such companies also get their servers breached and accounts stolen. This might mean your data is used not only by the company you register with but also by those which you have never heard of. Such a breach happened with Dropbox in 2012. A Facebook bug in 2013 shared email addresses and phone numbers of six million users online even when the information wasn’t public to begin with. Assuring one’s data security on social media is of utmost importance.

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