US Troops Using Russia-Connected FaceApp Urged to Be Cautious

Airmen look at smartphones in a screengrab from a military PSA video about FaceApp (Screenshot via DVIDS)
Airmen look at smartphones in a screengrab from a military PSA video about FaceApp (Screenshot via DVIDS)

Privates tempted to see what they'll look like as salty old retired sergeants major may want to think twice before using a popular new app that can age their youthful photos.

Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer wants a congressional investigation into FaceApp, a Russian-developed smartphone application that puts a filter over facial images to show what people look like years older or younger.

The New York Democrat and others have voiced concerns about a developer based in a country that has carried out hostile cyber acts -- including attempts to influence a U.S. presidential election -- having access to Americans' cell phone data. As of Thursday, FaceApp already had 12.7 million downloads, Business Insider reported.

With a lot of unanswered questions about who in Russia might get access to the data users are agreeing to hand over when they download FaceApp, troops are not being prohibited from using the aging app, but they are getting reminders to exercise caution with any online application.

"As with all social media activity, we encourage all service members and their families to use caution when downloading and using social media applications on their personal devices," officials with U.S. European Command said in a statement.

And those in the sea services are being told to keep that all-important operational security, or OPSEC, in mind.

"We advise our Marines and sailors to be responsible and exercise caution in providing personal information or imagery to any online application for their safety and mission readiness," said Capt. Karoline Foote, a Marine spokeswoman at the Pentagon.

The Air Force's official OPSEC Support Team urged its Facebook followers to remember that anytime they grant an app access to their phone, there's a chance of "compromising your previous information."

"Read those user agreements, make good choices," they added before sharing a sampling of FaceApp's user terms, which they warned include granting the company a perpetual, irrevocable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use, reproduce, modify, distribute and display user content and any name or username in all media formats.

Rear Adm. Robert Durand, the Navy's vice chief of information, shared on Twitter a warning from President Donald Trump's former U.N. ambassador, Nikki Haley.

"Those using the Aging Face App, please be warned," Haley wrote. "It's a Russian company, so once you grant access, you are granting access to all of those companies. Giving them access to all of your contacts and info. Please share."

Whether an average service member's photos or data are likely to fall into the hands of the Russians remains unclear. FaceApp CEO Yaroslav Goncharov told The Washington Post that government authorities in Russia would not have access to users' photos. But once you download FaceApp and give the company permission to store your photos in the cloud, just deleting the application won't undo that. You'd have to take several convoluted steps to try to remove your data from FaceApp's servers, the Post reported.

For now, instead of risking uploading your own images to the cloud, you can have some fun seeing what your Pentagon chain of command looks like several decades older -- and younger -- over at Task and Purpose.

-- Oriana Pawlyk contributed to this report.

-- Gina Harkins can be reached at gina.harkins@military.com. Follow her on Twitter @ginaaharkins.

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