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Is only your face old or does having concerns about privacy make you outdated to?

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1. The honey trap of quickness and visibility

Recently we witnessed a sharp division across social feeds: some users were sharing pictures of their old, future selves, whilst others were not so happy to scroll through a geriatric ward each time they opened their social media accounts. Likewise, people were split when it came to the relationship between FaceApp and privacy, which is not, if I may add, the most fruitful one. After the first days of blind love towards FaceApp, someone finally thought of reading its terms & conditions. It is a trick we have seen before: companies create playful apps that can be used by millions of people in just a few seconds, producing a social media ready result. Quickness and visibility: what everyone is looking for in 2019. However, behind these apparently frivolous apps, someone needs to make a profit. In the case of FaceApp, each user, knowingly or not, granted Wireless Lab, the company behind it, 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”, in addition to consenting to a general use of the uploaded contents “regardless of whether it includes an individual’s name, likeness, voice or persona, sufficient to indicate the individual’s identity”. On top of that, just to make sure every imaginable right was covered, users agreed that the uploaded content “may be used for commercial purposes”. Not to forget the privacy policy, which makes clear how data may be shared, combined, accessed and transferred. Basically, a bargain with the devil. 

2. Are we all just overreacting? 

What is most interesting about the whole FaceApp situation, however, goes beyond the shock stemming from the sudden realisation that users’ data may be forever kept on an unknown server for unknown purposes, but instead the opposing reaction is evident. Alongside the startled ones, are the blasé. I’ve encountered several posts mocking those worried about their privacy. For instance, one taunted: “Be careful to those filters aging us, they save our data and send them to the FBI without us knowing. Our safety is important. Zuckerbergggg, kittens and coffee”

So the question comes naturally: is it really an issue we should worry about? Well, yes, actually.

3. Black mirrors

Chuapadados, a project aimed at showing the truth behind big data, puts it quite clearly: it is all about the hidden faces of our beloved technologies. The scandal of period tracking apps selling data to employers was just one of these many hidden faces.

In addition to deceitful apps, users should be aware of what Eli Pariser names the “filter bubble”, defined as the intellectual isolation originating from personalised searches, resulting in a website algorithm that selectively guesses what information a user would like to see. The aftermath is dangerous. Users become separated from information that is far from their view and, putting it in Pariser’s words, they eventually isolate themselves in their own cultural or ideological bubble. Moreover, these bubbles make it difficult for people to change their minds, as social media are not a place for confrontation any longer, but a black mirror of their own selves, a validation of what users already know, or think they know.

4. It is not about being a conspiracist 

Ultimately, it is not about conspiracy theories, but simply about acknowledging that technologies are evolving and that they come with a price, mostly hidden. This is the actual strength of companies creating apps such as FaceApp: the fact that most people still do not understand what big data can be used, or exploited, for. Likewise, users need to stop underestimating the issues originating from the use of their personal data. It is not simply about having your photos on a server somewhere on the planet (well, it should be), but realising that our freedom to know the world as it is, without having a distorted version of it springing from our past click-behaviour and search history, is currently at stake. In the future, the focal point of technological advancement should move from the ethics of artificial intelligence to the ethics of algorithms. At this moment, the world of data resembles a casino: colorful, fun and cool. Attracting people inside with flashing lights; it’s only once you leave that you notice the damage done.

By Ambra Pacitti

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