Would Blockchain Better Protect User Data Than FaceApp?

FaceApp the mobile application that has blown up your Instagram feed with pictures of your followers as old people, the opposite gender or babies has raised a lot of concerns about potential privacy violations for users that upload their photos to be edited. Rumors have circulated that the application might even be taking users’ photos from their phones and uploading them to the FaceApp cloud server without explicit permission.

We reached out to experts in security and data privacy from academia, government agencies, startups and more to comment on the issues surrounding users’ privacy, asking them their opinions about the concerns associated with traditional applications as opposed to blockchain-based decentralized applications (DApps).

FaceApp uses artificial intelligence as well as a neural network to edit users’ images. The one function that made the mobile app suddenly popular last month after its 2017 release was the function that allows you to predict how you would look in the future.

Along with a wave of popularity among users, more and more questions have arisen about the application’s security, the fact that it’s based in Russia (which apparently briefly spooked a New York Times reporter) and company’s unclear terms of use. Karissa Bell, Mashable’s senior tech reporter, wrote that the app allows you to select photos from your photo gallery, even if you have a general ban on access to it. Allegations that the app was able to “hoover” up all of the photos in your gallery were later denied by FaceApp.

United States Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer asked the Federal Trade Commission and the FBI to conduct a privacy investigation into FaceApp, underlining that “it is not clear how the artificial intelligence application retains the data of users or how users may ensure the deletion of their data after usage.”

Justin Brookman, a former policy director for the Federal Trade Commission’s Office of Technology Research and Investigation, said, “I would be cautious about uploading sensitive data to this company that does not take privacy very seriously, but also reserves broad rights to do whatever they want with your pictures.”

Meanwhile, FaceApp denied selling or sharing data with third parties without permission, adding: “We might store an uploaded photo in the cloud. The main reason for that is performance and traffic: we want to make sure that the doesn’t upload the photo repeatedly for every edit operation. Most images are deleted from our servers within 48 hours from the upload date.”

However, as was pointed out in the second paragraph of the fifth section of the FaceApp’s terms of use, by using this application, you provide FaceApp absolute freedom to do everything with your image:

“You grant FaceApp a perpetual, irrevocable, nonexclusive, royalty-free, worldwide, fully-paid, transferable sub-licensable license to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, create derivative works from, distribute, publicly perform and display your User Content and any name, username or likeness provided in connection with your User Content in all media formats and channels now known or later developed, without compensation to you.”

Could a blockchain-based DApp be much better for users’ privacy and security?

Oh, for sure DApps can be better for privacy and security if they work, and they work for more than 50 people at a time!

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Scaling vs. security is a classic dilemma. Privacy vs. security is the other one. My question would be: Why does the world need another app/DApp? Why aren’t you building infrastructure and interoperability toward intelligent decentralization, personal agency and transparency?

I guess DApps could in an ideal world but honestly, I’m not seeing useful things work in a decentralized way as much as I’d like.

Native mobile applications leak a lot of data. Every app on your phone claims rights to your information when you’re in the application, and sometimes, even when you’re not using that application, it will still collect data in the background without your consent (this is very prevalent with software development kits).

The entire app ecosystem is due for an overhaul. Decentralized applications are a move in the right direction; however, many will not be truly decentralized if there is one party controlling the transactions or the data. The purpose of decentralization is to distribute the transactions and data to where no central party owns it. Therefore, in some cases, decentralized applications will be a misnomer as the app developer or publisher may maintain control.

Facebook’s Libra is a misnomer with decentralization. The crypto payments in this case will be centralized through Facebook and easily trackable. In many ways, this would work against the ideology of cryptocurrencies because every transaction a person makes will be tracked as the person will be identified by the developer of the protocol and coin (in this case, Facebook). The risk is if other app developers pursue a similar model of using blockchain to record every transaction while also verifying identity through various ways.

Facial recognition is permanent; you can change your social security number, your phone number and even your name. But you cannot change your face. Combine this with blockchain transactions and one can easily imagine a dystopian level of surveillance. The best blockchain will truly be decentralized and not linked to data like facial recognition, social media data, bank data (like the JPMorgan coin), etc.

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