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Possibilities. What will I look like a few years from now? What if I were a few years younger? If I belonged to the opposite gender? How many of us have resisted the temptation to somehow get a sneak peek into the future or our other selves? It is this temptation that apps like the Russian artificial intelligence app called FaceApp have tapped into. The app was released a couple of years back, but what has brought it back into the limelight is its ageing filter.

The app went viral, and soon enough, everyone and their aunt wanted to get a glimpse of how they’d look in the future. And social media platforms were populated with these images. Indian film stars joined in. Fans created images of their favourite cricketers. #FaceAppChallenge was breaking the Internet last month. Many Indian brands, from Fevicol to Swiggy and Flipkart leveraged the opportunity to encourage engagement and boost visibility. Some brands gave their own twists to the challenge. Lakme, for instance, turned it into #FaceAppChallenged and gave the conversation a fresh spin — anti-ageing. All these are great examples of moment marketing, where brands aim for optimal visibility in an ephemeral moment.

Privacy concerns

Let’s not lose sight of what it all means to the consumer. While everyone hops on to the bandwagon, and makes hay while the sun shines, what does the user of the app gain? Apart from momentary fun, that is.

There’s also the bigger question — that of privacy. In the era of artificial intelligence, machine learning and Big Data, privacy is a major challenge, because the users stand to bear the consequences of data loss. By agreeing to use the app, users are granting FaceApp permission to use their content in any way the company wants to. The app had over a 100 million downloads on the Google Playstore , as per July reports.

While FaceApp has responded to privacy issues and said they “don’t sell or share any user data with any third parties,” and that “most images are deleted from our servers within 48 hours from the upload date”, the worries remain. Nor are they unsubstantiated. Because, after all, the app’s privacy policy does mention “perpetual, irrevocable, nonexclusive, royalty-free, worldwide, fully-paid, transferable sub-licensable licence” that a user is granting it. If FaceApp so wishes, it can use my name, username or photo for commercial purposes, although it says it won’t in the statement released after privacy concerns were raised. It may not, but the very fact that it can is powerful enough.

On the flip side

FaceApp may be just as invasive (and worrisome) as any other app that we use on our smartphones. We have all signed in and agreed to give our user info for random quizzes, photo uploads et al on other apps, at some point in our digital journeys.

Once the #FaceAppChallenge craze died down, many even questioned whether the reaction was overblown and the paranoia uncalled for. The pro and anti-arguments will continue to rage, but what remains is the fact that millions of users willingly use apps that promise them a chance to look at themselves. The apps exploit our weakness to constantly put ourselves at the centre of everything — our need for approval, our self-love, our avatars, our curiosity, our tomorrows. It is this very human trait that businesses bank on.