The FBI has labeled the photo-editing tool FaceApp a “potential counterintelligence threat” because of its links to Russia.
The bureau views any mobile app developed there as a possible risk given the Russian government’s ability to access data within the country’s borders, it said in a letter to US Sen. Chuck Schumer released Monday.
The warning prompted Schumer to urge Americans to consider deleting apps like FaceApp, which can warp photos of users to make them look older or younger.
“The personal data FaceApp collects from a user’s device could end up in the hands of Russian intelligence services,” the New York Democrat said Monday. “It is simply not worth the risk.”
The FBI’s letter came in response to Schumer’s July request that federal authorities examine FaceApp as its popularity exploded on social media. The senator wanted a probe of whether the Kremlin or companies linked to it could be getting ahold of data from the St. Petersburg-based platform.
The FBI’s response said a powerful surveillance system lets Russia’s Federal Security Service access servers and communications on Russian networks without asking internet service providers.
“Russia’s intelligence services maintain robust cyber exploitation capabilities,” Jill Tyson, the assistant director of the FBI’s Office of Congressional Affairs, wrote in the Nov. 25 letter.
The bureau would also investigate any “foreign influence operations” involving FaceApp that target elected officials, candidates, political parties or political campaigns, Tyson added.
FaceApp uses artificial intelligence to distort photos selected by users. The platform uploads pictures to servers hosted in the US, Ireland, Australia and Singapore but removes most of them after 48 hours, according to Tyson’s letter.
FaceApp CEO Yaroslav Goncharov recently downplayed the American privacy backlash. FaceApp has reportedly said it does not share user data with third parties and that user data is not transferred to Russia.
“It was a PR problem,” Goncharov said in a Bloomberg interview published Nov. 15. “There was no actual privacy problem, and all allegations were debunked by security researchers.”
The FaceApp furor comes amid worries about TikTok, the Chinese-owned video-sharing app that has grown wildly popular among American teens. The US Army said it was taking up a security assessment of the platform after Schumer raised concerns about it.