Viral Chinese face-swapping app draws concerns over privacy

Image via Florence Lo (Reuters)

A couple of months ago, popular Russian app FaceApp, that's been around for quite some time, went viral worldwide. It provided the capability to use images to vary users' ages, change their genders, and even alter their race. However, the app faced issues over privacy regarding the images uploaded by users, which were categorically denied by the people behind it.

Now, a new Chinese face-swapping app called ZAO that went viral over the weekend (via Reuters) has triggered similar privacy concerns. The app is noted to have already become the most downloaded free app on China's iOS app store, despite only becoming available on Friday, August 30.

Signing up for ZAO requires users' mobile phone numbers. To clarify the app's purpose further, it uses uploaded images of faces which can then be superimposed upon the faces of various celebrities in videos. These videos can later be shared with friends as well. As an example, the video below shows one user's image being used to replace famed U.S. celebrity Leonardo DiCaprio's face in some movie scenes.

However, users noted a problematic section in the app's privacy policy, which essentially stated that users' intellectual property rights to their own face is surrendered once their pictures have been uploaded. As per The Telegraph, according to a researcher on Twitter, this meant that "they [ZAO] can do whatever they want. They will give your face to the Chinese authorities if they ask."

Since then, ZAO has issued a statement on the matter, noting:

"We thoroughly understand the anxiety people have toward privacy concerns. We have received the questions you have sent us. We will correct the areas we have not considered and require some time."

Its privacy policy has also been updated to reflect that user content will not be used for other purposes unless expressly granted permission by users, and that the content in question will also be deleted from its servers once it has been removed by users.

ZAO publisher Momo Inc. has not yet responded to requests for comment, though we will keep you posted regarding any further explanations from its end.

Source: Reuters, The Telegraph

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