AI Face Edits Are Going Viral. But Are They Safe?

Face editors are getting good. Like, really good. If your social media feed isn’t already filled with AI face edits turning your friends into different art styles, it will be soon.

By Alina Clough2 min read
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Apps like Lensa and the MyHeritage AI Time Machine are turning people’s selfies into Vikings, comic book characters, and hyper-realistic techno portraits. But is teaching AI your face safe?

When the #10YearChallenge took over three years ago, the only trend more viral than side-by-side transformation comparisons was skepticism. As many people flocked to their collage apps to show glow-ups, glow-downs, and gym transformations, others pointed out that the challenge could be a perfect opportunity for bad actors. Some even accused Facebook of social engineering, saying they created the hashtag as a tool to trick users into training its facial recognition technology. 

AI Portraits Want Your Money, Not Your Data

Despite Facebook and tech experts dispelling the rumors, a lot of social media users are justifiably still on edge with similar viral trends. But as a general rule, these challenges receive far more hype than they deserve. While the trustworthiness of these apps does vary based on the countries they’re developed in, it's unlikely that the trend itself is social engineering for the purpose of data mining. Enough photos are already online for bad actors to use without going through the trouble of making an app. Bad actors don’t need to go to all that trouble to steal what our public accounts give them for free.

It’s a common saying that if you’re not paying for a product, you are the product. This is certainly true for the business models of most social media and search engine companies, which use your data to sell your attention to advertisers. Lensa and MyHeritage, two of the most popular editors right now, are both paid solutions, despite offering occasional free trials and promos. While it may be bad news for your budget, this is a great sign for your privacy. 

Should We Be More Worried About Other Apps?

Still, the trend raises some timely questions about the privacy we’re willing to give up for social media. It’s no secret that photo and video edits and deep fakes can be downright creepy, but does AI spell danger in an even bigger sense? A lot of our leaders think so. 

Lensa and MyHeritage are also both U.S.-owned companies with pretty transparent data policies, both promising that they don’t hang on to your photos or use them for other purposes than generating your portraits. Unfortunately, that’s not the case for a lot of social media and editing apps. And the potential for meddling might be a real reason to worry. Texas Governor Abbott just joined four other states in banning TikTok on government phones, citing foreign influence over the Chinese-based company. According to one analysis, 5 out of every 8 face and body editing apps are made in China, and the vast majority of them collect data they didn’t need from users – even their locations.

Closing Thoughts

AI face editing trends are nothing to lose your beauty sleep over. Most of these companies want your payment info more than your biometrics and don’t have ties to bad actors who should have you worried. Still, it may be time to consider a digital hygiene checkup if your phone is packed with terms and conditions you don’t remember reading. You should always be mindful about where your apps are coming from and how you use them, but the privacy panic over this trend, like many before it, is just hype.

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