Collusion? NBC Promotes ‘Fun’ FaceApp, Then Realizes It’s Russian

On Wednesday, the hosts of NBC’s Today show were delighted by the latest viral craze sweeping the nation, FaceApp, an app that allows users to upload photos of themselves to see what they would like at different ages or even as a different gender. However, on Thursday, the journalists realized that they just handed over images of themselves to a Russian-backed company behind the suddenly popular app.

“Plus, coming of age. We’ll take a look at the growing old photo craze gone viral. The celebrities taking part, and we join in on the fun,” co-host Savannah Guthrie happily proclaimed at the top of Wednesday’s broadcast. Later in the 8:00 a.m. ET hour, fellow co-host Carson Daly touted the technology: “I mean, everybody seems to be talking about this. There’s a new app, it’s gone viral. Stars are getting in on the action, we’re getting in on the action. Eighty million people are on this app right now. It’s called FaceApp.”

 

 

After showing various celebrities using the app to age photos of themselves, the hosts revealed their own elderly images. Guthrie noted: “How does it go viral in one day? It’s so funny. Like one day it’s everywhere.”

Just 24 hours later, the anchor informed viewers that participating in the viral trend may have been a big mistake: “And about ‘face.’ It’s the hottest app on the planet, but what exactly is the Russian company behind it doing with your photos and private information?” Co-host Craig Melvin later worried: “While everyone is having fun seeing their older selves, what is the Russian-based company behind FaceApp actually doing with all of our photos?”

Introducing a full report on the newfound fears about the app, Guthrie admitted: “Yeah, it seems like everybody was having fun with it yesterday, we got in on it, too. But now, there are some serious privacy concerns being raised about FaceApp.” Correspondent Gadi Schwartz followed with a warning:

It’s all fun and games until somebody reads the fine print. And in the case of this latest craze, FaceApp, using their aging filters or any other filter means you’ve handed over the rights to your pictures to a Russian company that can do whatever they want with them, and that is raising a lot of questions.

Perhaps the journalists should have asked those questions before promoting and using the app.

Schwartz even cited Democrats sounding the alarm:

Lawmakers are now wondering what is this Russian-based company doing with all of your photos? On Wednesday, Senator Chuck Schumer sending this letter to the FBI and FTC, calling for an investigation into whether personal data uploaded by millions of Americans onto FaceApp may be finding its way into the hands of the Russian government. And the Democratic National Committee warning its 2020 presidential campaigns not to use FaceApp because it was developed by Russians.

Considering the media’s constant hand-wringing, possibly even bordering on paranoia, about Russian influence on American society, it’s astonishing that they would accidently seize on a Russian-backed app without taking the time to “read the fine print.”

Here is a transcript of the July 18 report detailing FaceApp’s Russian connection:

7:44 AM ET

CRAIG MELVIN: This morning, some new questions about that wildly popular app that shows us what we’ll look like in 50 years.

SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: Yeah, it seems like everybody was having fun with it yesterday, we got in on it, too. But now, there are some serious privacy concerns being raised about FaceApp. NBC’s Gadi Schwartz joins us with that part of the story. Gadi, good morning, what did you find?  

GADI SCHWARTZ: Yeah, good morning, guys. It’s all fun and games until somebody reads the fine print. And in the case of this latest craze, FaceApp, using their aging filters or any other filter means you’ve handed over the rights to your pictures to a Russian company that can do whatever they want with them, and that is raising a lot of questions.

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: About “Face”?; Warnings Over Russia Link to Popular Picture-Aging App]

While millions of FaceApp users wonder, what will I like decades down the road?  

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN [FACEAPP USER]: Oh, my gosh. There’s just wrinkles everywhere, in places I didn’t know you get wrinkles.

SCHWARTZ: Lawmakers are now wondering what is this Russian-based company doing with all of your photos? On Wednesday, Senator Chuck Schumer sending this letter to the FBI and FTC, calling for an investigation into whether personal data uploaded by millions of Americans onto FaceApp may be finding its way into the hands of the Russian government. And the Democratic National Committee warning its 2020 presidential campaigns not to use FaceApp because it was developed by Russians.

JACOB WARD [NBC NEWS TECHNOLOGY CORRESPONDENT]: Russia requires the companies there cooperate with the authorities in a way that I think would probably make most Americans uncomfortable.

(...)

7:47 AM ET

GUTHRIE: But what do you do if you want to make sure now they’re not just keeping your photos and your information? 

SCHWARTZ: Well, the company says that you can request to have all your data removed from their servers, but the process is a little tricky, so I’m going to show you right now, we’ve got my phone mirrored up here. This is FaceApp, this is what the interface looks like. We’re going go to this up here, that is “Settings.” And then down here, you go to “Support.” And then “Report bugs and send logs.” Right there, you’re supposed to type in “Privacy.” And then something like, “Please delete all my user data from your servers.” And now, they say their support team is currently overloaded, but eventually, they’re supposed to get to it.

MELVIN: Well, that doesn’t sound very reassuring.

AL ROKER: That’s ridiculous.

MELVIN: So you have to ask them to delete it and then trust that they will?

SCHWARTZ: Exactly.

GUTHRIE: Eventually, they’ll get to it.

(...)

NB Daily Russia NBC Today Video Savannah Guthrie Craig Melvin

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