You remember FaceApp, right? That's the app that uses neural networks and artificial intelligence to create a pretty compelling version of your older, grayer self. Well, it's back, partly due to the FaceApp challenge that has celebrities sharing their future selfies along with the rest of us.
Have you ever wondered what happens to those photos you take?
Well, yesterday, the internet caught fire when a Twitter user posted that the app was uploading all of your photos to its servers. (He later deleted those tweets after realizing they weren't accurate, though gave permission to use screenshots of said tweets.)
There were articles and blog posts making sensational claims that the Russians were involved (the app's developers are based in Russia), and that the app was uploading your photos and sending them places you might not be too excited about.
It turns out the app sends photos you select to its server for processing, just not all of your photos, as Nozzi tweeted. And the company only stores them for 48 hours, and its servers are actually located in, wait for it, the U.S.
but information about your mobile device.
In a statement to 9to5Mac, FaceApp said the company "performs most of the photo processing 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."
The company went on to say "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."
I also reached out directly to FaceApp but didn't immediately receive a response.
All of this brings us to a few points that are worth considering.
Privacy concerns are real.
Most people have no idea what is happening with their personal information. And apparently, most people don't really care. Until, that is, someone points out that something really bad might be happening. Then they care enough to make a stink, but only for so long--as evidenced by the fact that FaceApp isn't new. We've been through this before, and nothing has really changed.
Also, trust is a fleeting and finicky friend. She leaves you quickly once scorned and isn't likely to return any time soon.
Said another way, people simply don't trust tech companies. And that's a problem. You don't have to look very far to see why. Companies like Google and Facebook are under increasingly intense scrutiny over how they handle user's data and what exactly they track to serve up all of those relevant ads that seem to follow you across the internet.
But it isn't just a problem for the big guys.
I've said it enough times that soon I suspect the editors here at Inc. will start asking me to come up with new material, but it's worth saying again: trust is your brand's most valuable asset. It's more important than your product design, software code, people, or marketing message.
Trust isn't something you're entitled to just because you have a good idea or good intentions. It's something you earn by demonstrating that you put your customer's best interests first. It's something you keep by doing the right thing every time you interact with a customer, either directly or through your products.
It's really not that complicated. No, FaceApp isn't sending your photos to Russia, but the very fact that people considered that possible is indicative of a much bigger issue facing tech companies.
It's likely that there will be a time when your company faces the same issue. The only question is whether you'll have your customers' trust. What you do now will determine the answer later.
Update: FaceApp provided Inc. the same statement they provided 9to5Mac.