Warnings issued over Russia-based New Profile Pic app collecting large amounts of personal data

Experts are warning users to be wary of the Russia-based New Profile Pic app that collects large amounts of personal data.

The app allows users to upload an existing photo to create a profile image in the appearance of a painting or a cartoon.

Users in the tens of thousands have uploaded images to the app to acquire profile pictures. Linerock Investments, the company behind the app, is based in an apartment building near the Moscow River, next to the Russian Defense Ministry – about three miles from Red Square, DailyMail.com reported.

According to the Google Play Store, the app has been installed more than 1 million times and has been reviewed by around 30,000 users. It’s listed as the number one free app on the App Store.

Cybersecurity adviser Jake Moore told the outlet that “this app is likely a way of capturing people’s faces in high resolution and I would question any app wanting this amount of data, especially one which is largely unheard of and based in another country”.

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists offshore leaks database shows that Linerock Investments Ltd has an address in Moscow and is also linked to the British Virgin Islands.

One of its shareholders is based in Panama City, and a director of the firm is based in Russia.

A company based in St Petersburg in western Russia released the FaceApp in 2017, allowing users to upload photos that would be edited using artificial intelligence to make them appear older. A challenge that went viral led to security experts warning users about the amounts of data the app sent to Russia.

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Warnings have been issued over the Russia-based New Profile Pic app which collects large amounts of personal data from its users

(Screenshot / Linerock Investments LTD)

The New Profile Pic app promotes the application by saying that “the world around us is fast-paced and always evolving. In this ever changing world, why stick to one profile pic on your social media? Let it be different, always new and… made by AI!”

“The NewProfilePic app lets you change your user image style as often as you want. Dare to be different, with a profile pic that reflects your current mood or state of mind. Impress your friends on social media and keep them interested in what’s coming next!” the promotional material for the app states.

When downloading the app, users agree to share their location, information about what kind of device they’re using, and other photos uploaded to their social media accounts.

The data policy says that “we collect certain personal information that you voluntarily provide to us”.

“We collect your name, email address, user name, social network information and other information you provide when you register,” it adds.

The app also collects data about the user from other companies, as well as the user’s IP address, browser type and settings.

The developers of the app say that “whenever you choose an effect that involves face manipulations we use special face recognition technologies to detect a photo; find required facial key points, and apply the effect to your photo”.

The “detected key points may be kept along with the photo on the servers of our providers for up to two weeks from the last interaction with the photo … to speed up further processing of the same photos,” the company says.

“Before people upload photos or other personal data to a brand new website, they must carry out their own due diligence where possible,” Mr Moore told DailyMail.com.

“Although most people will not question the possibilities of anything untoward occurring from simply uploading a photo, the amount of data taken under the radar can often be far more than the user intended on sharing which can cause security and privacy problems,” he added.

“Regardless of where they are based, I would always err on the side of caution when handing over sensitive data as once it has gone it is virtually impossible to gain control of it back,” he said.

A spokesperson for the app told DailyMail.com that they “are a BVI company with development offices in Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus”.

They said the company doesn’t share any user information in any way that isn’t included in the privacy policy, claiming that the photos are sent to their Amazon servers where the effects are applied and that they’re not visible to anyone.

The Independent you have reached out to the app developers for comment.


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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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