Cybersecurity experts at VPNOverview.com, which is headquartered in The Netherlands, recently took on a unique research assignment: Given the fact that many of us are guilty of downloading face-transforming apps, just how safe is a person’s data in the hands of these apps.
In order to find what they were looking for, the privacy policies of the most downloaded face-transforming apps on Google Play Store and Apple App Store were studied to determine what types of data might be collected and how long each app developer might retain it for.
“These were split into five categories,” a release about the study states. “Ageing, gender-swap, beautifying, face-swap, and body-swap apps. Eight types of data were identified from these privacy policies.”
The data types were:
- Contact information – user phone contacts
- Financial information – credit/debit card information
- Camera and photos – access to camera and photo gallery
- Social media information – publicly available information on linked social media accounts
- Location information – exact user location
- User content – all content generated using the app
- Personal data – first name, surname, address, phone number
- Usage data – interactions with the app e.g. how many times they have used it and for how long.
“Apps do require access to certain data so that they can provide the service advertised e.g., TikTok will require access to your camera so that you can film a video,” the release says.
“However, many apps tend to ask for data that isn’t necessarily essential for the services they provide. In fact, of the forty apps studied, 68 per cent collected location data from their users, while 40 per cent of the apps collected user content data despite mainly being photo-editing and filter apps. TikTok, Snapchat, Oldify, Facetune and FACEinHOLE have been found to collect both of these data types.”
Key findings revealed that:
- 38 out of 40 face-transforming apps ask for data that is not essential to the services they provide.
- Ageing apps collect the most data, including financial and social media information.
- TikTok collects data from every single category in the study and retains user content indefinitely.
As for how best to protect personal data while using face-transforming apps, VPNoverview.com researchers suggest the following:
- Only download reputable apps from official sources.
- Keep any software updated.
- Use a VPN, which will, they say, “hide your IP address, encrypt your data traffic, bypass government censorship and allow you to download files anonymously.”
- Limit the amount of information present on social media accounts.
- Research the app and be mindful of permissions it demands.
The firm recommends that individuals “stay vigilant and critical about what kind of data these apps are collecting and where they may be using them. ‘Free’ apps and services still need to make money, so if users aren’t paying for services, it is likely that they’ll be making money elsewhere – by providing data.”