FBI deems FaceApp a ‘potential counterintelligence threat’ because of its ties to Russia

Remember FaceApp? It went viral over the summer as a way to transform your selfies with aging effects, glasses, and more. Almost immediately after it went viral, users started voicing concerns over the app’s privacy policy and its ties to Russia. This prompted US Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer to call on the FBI to investigate FaceApp for potential national security concerns.

Now, the FBI has officially responded to Schumer’s request, stating that apps developed in Russia, including FaceApp, to be “potential counterintelligence threats.”





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As you may remember, FaceApp refuted early privacy concerns and said that no user data is transferred to Russia, even though that is where its R&D team is located. The company also said that it performs most of its photo processing in the cloud, and noted that it “might store an uploaded photo in the cloud.”

With all of that in mind, the FBI today formally responded to Schumer’s request for investigation. As reported by Axios, the FBI said it considers any application developed in Russia to be a potential counterintelligence threat, specifically because of the tools available to the government of Russia to access user data:

The FBI considers any mobile application or similar product developed in Russia, such as FaceApp, to be a potential counterintelligence threat, based on the data the product collects, its privacy and terms of use policies, and the legal mechanisms available to the government of Russia that permit access to data within Russia’s borders.

The FBI also explains that intelligence services in Russia “maintain robust cyber-exploitation capabilities.” The Russian Federal Security Service can also “access all communications and servers on Russian networks without making a request to ISPs,” the FBI says.

In a new statement, Schumer urged all Americans to consider deleting applications like FaceApp from their phone:

In light of FBI’s warning that FaceApp, and similar applications developed in Russia, poses a potential counterintelligence threat to the United States, I strongly urge all Americans to consider deleting apps like FaceApp immediately and proceed with extreme caution when downloading apps developed in hostile foreign countries.

Today’s statement from the FBI comes as concerns mount about other Chinese-owned services as well, perhaps none more notable than TikTok. Applications like TikTok are under intense scrutiny from lawmakers, as is Apple’s relationship with the Chinese government.

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