SA loved FaceApp more than Mandela this week

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Popular comedian Trevor Noah took to social media to show how he would look at a later stage in life using FaceApp. (Photo credit: Twitter)
Popular comedian Trevor Noah took to social media to show how he would look at a later stage in life using FaceApp. (Photo credit: Twitter)

The #Faceappchallenge frenzy hit South Africa this week, clocking 100 000 Google searches on Wednesday and placing Mandela Google searches a distant second with 50 000.

Search trends information is gleaned from data collated by Google based on what South Africans have been searching for and asking Google.

Google processes more than 40 000 search queries every second. This translates to more than a billion searches per day and 1.2 trillion searches per year, worldwide.

The Internet went crazy over the FaceApp artificial intelligence (AI) photo editor, which was launched two years ago.

FaceApp is a mobile application for iOS and Android developed by Russian company Wireless Lab, which uses neural network technology to automatically generate highly realistic transformations of faces in photographs. The app uses AI to create a rendering of what users might look like in a few decades or younger.

FaceApp went viral as users posted their aged likenesses on social media.

Celebrities also joined the frenzy, with the likes of comedian Trevor Noah using FaceApp to show what they would look at a later stage in life.

Privacy experts, however, warned the app, because of its Russian origin, may compromise users’ privacy as it stores photos on its servers.

Washington Post technology columnist Geoffrey A Fowler did a forensic analysis of the Russia-based app and explained the risks on radio station 702 last night.

Fowler said FaceApp continually shares information about one’s phone with Facebook and Google AdMob.

“They use the data to serve adverts and to check their effectiveness.”

He adds FaceApp sends loads of data to its servers in Russia – it’s impossible to know what happens to it once there.

“It’s not just your face but everyone you ‘age’ that ends up with FaceApp. FaceApp uploads and processes your images in ‘the cloud’, where it stays forever.”

By accepting the app’s terms and conditions, users agree to give it a “perpetual” licence to their images.

“Whoever buys your pictures from FaceApp has the right to do whatever it wants with them in terms of an irrevocable, non-exclusive, royalty-free, worldwide, fully-paid, transferrable sub-licensable licence,” he explained.

Today, Russian-based cyber security firm Kaspersky Lab warned it has identified a fake application designed to trick users into thinking it is a certified version of FaceApp but infects victims’ devices with an adware module called MobiDash.

The multinational cyber security and anti-virus provider says: “Once the application is downloaded from unofficial sources and installed, it simulates a failure and is subsequently removed. After that, a malicious module in the application rests discreetly on the user’s device, displaying adverts.”

According to Kaspersky data, around 500 unique users have encountered the problem in the last two days, with the first detections appearing on 7 July. There were almost 800 different module modifications identified.

Igor Golovin, security researcher at Kaspersky, adds: “The people behind MobiDash often hide their adware module under the guise of popular applications and services. This means the activities of the fake version of FaceApp could intensify, especially if we are talking about hundreds of targets in just a few days. We urge users not to download applications from unofficial sources and to install security solutions on their devices to avoid any damage.”

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