FBI Warns About FaceApp, Other Russian-developed Apps

The FBI has classified FaceApp as a counterintelligence threat due to its ties to Russia, along with any other app developed in the country. In a letter dated November 25th to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, the FBI warned about Russian intelligence’s “robust cyber exploitation capabilities,” and warned that authorities could “remotely access all communications and servers on Russian networks,” without requests to internet providers. This, along with its privacy and terms of use policies, seems to form the basis for the FBI’s concerns.

When using FaceApp, photos are uploaded to a server for processing before being sent back to the user. The company says that it uploads these photos to cloud servers in the United States, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand, but does not transfer the data to Russia, where the company’s R&D team is based. There are also concerns about how the app’s terms of service does not specify how long the data could be kept. The company has previously claimed that it deletes photos from its servers within 48 hours of them being uploaded.

The FBI says that it will take action if it find that the face-editing app is involved in election interference efforts. A statement from the agency says, “If the FBI assesses that elected officials, candidates, political campaigns, or political parties are targets of foreign influence operations involving FaceApp, the FBI would coordinate notifications, investigate, and engage the Foreign Influence Task Force, as appropriate.”

Senator Schumer has been strongly focused on the potential security concerns posed by foreign-made apps heavily used by U.S. consumers. Schumer said during a Senate floor speech, “In light of the FBI’s warning, I strongly urge all Americans to consider deleting apps like FaceApp immediately and to proceed with extreme caution when downloading apps developed in foreign countries that are known adversaries. The personal data it collects from a user’s device could end up in the hands of Russian Intelligence Services. It’s simply not worth the risk.”