FaceApp, the artificial intelligence app that allows users to upload a photo of themselves and then filter it to see how they would look in old age, went viral again this week after celebrities (and just about everyone else) starting posting their photos with #FaceAppChallenge. 

But are they laughing at their elders, or with them?

The app first went viral in 2017 but resurfaced this week when everyone from the Jonas Brothers to Carrie Underwood to Mindy Kaling to Lebron James shared selfies of themselves to the Internet looking a few decades older than they currently are.

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Forbes reports that more than 100,000 million people have downloaded the app from Google Play and it is now the top-ranked app on the iOS App Store in 121 countries, according to App Annie.

The app, based in Russia, uses deep-learning technology versus a filter to alter the user’s photo.

“Aging is daunting, and there is a lot of fear and anxiety about what the future holds. It’s a playful way of investigating that.”
Margaret E. Morris

“Our main differentiator is photorealism,” Yaroslav Goncharov, FaceApp founder and CEO, told TechCrunch in 2017. “After applying a filter, it is still your photo. Other apps intentionally change a picture in a way it is entertaining, but not a real photo anymore.”

While the #FaceAppChallenge is just another, likely fleeting, viral phenomenon, what happens to the photos that people upload of themselves? And why is everyone so intrigued?

Margaret E. Morris, author of “Left to Our Own Devices: Outsmarting Smart Technology to Reclaim Our Relationships, Health, and Focus,” told Salon.com that “Aging is daunting, and there is a lot of fear and anxiety about what the future holds, in terms of, ‘How will I look, how will I feel, how will I be perceived by others?’. I think it’s a playful way of investigating that.”

“These photos raise questions like, ‘Can I bring my vitality, my humor, these other sort of positive qualities that I express in my selfies, can bring that with me? And as I get older, and will other people still see that?’ ” she adds.

Basically, while the app provides a fun way to share your potential future self, there are likely some deeper questions there, too.

As for the more than 150 million people that have uploaded their likeness to the app, Goncharov told Forbes that user data is not transferred to Russia and that “Most of the photo processing is in the cloud. We only upload a photo selected by a user for editing. We never transfer any other images from the phone to the cloud.”

“We might store an uploaded photo in the cloud. The main reason for that is performance and traffic: We want to make sure that the user doesn’t upload the photo repeatedly for every edit operation. Most images are deleted from our servers within 48 hours from the upload date,” he added.

But if you still have reason for concern, you can request that your data be removed by going to settings, then support and opt to report a bug, using the word “privacy” in the subject line.

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