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Beyond the FaceApp controversy there’s a deeper lesson about life


sergey causelove - Shutterstock

Matthew Green - Annalisa Teggi - published on 08/04/19

Seeing ourselves "age" often reveals a face beyond our own ...

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FaceApp — the viral app that recently made a splash (not for the first time) when celebrities started challenging each other to use its filter to age photos of themselves — has caused quite a controversy.

Accusations of racism

First, there’s the fact that one of the filters the platform rolled out, which was supposed to make people look more attractive, automatically made them look lighter-skinned. This naturally sparked accusations of racism, and the filter was soon modified and renamed. Not long after that, FaceApp released filters that were supposed to allow users to see themselves as different ethnicities, which turned out to be an even worse faux pas than the previous one and was reportedly pulled less than a day later.

Privacy concerns

Then, there are the privacy concerns. The app uses sophisticated neural networks to transform the face and hair of the person in the photograph, and this takes place on correspondingly sophisticated software on servers owned by Amazon and Google, not on your phone. In other words, our photos, with all the embedded data about the location, date, time, etc. of the photo, are being uploaded and processed by the company.

This happens to lots of our data, but in this case, the owner of the app is a Russian company. This matters because, according to an in-depth article by PBS’s Nsikan Akpan, who consulted security experts, there’s no guarantee that this information isn’t being mirrored back to servers in Russia, where it’s possibly being sold to, or hacked or appropriated by, the Russian government and/or international hackers. Personal data on servers in the USA and Europe have much better protection under law.

Dangers of identity theft

Akpan reports that, in the wrong hands, quality images of faces can be used to break into bank accounts, create fake I.D. cards and passports, and more, especially when combined with information from other data breaches when hackers have used security weaknesses to acquire sensitive personal data on massive numbers of people from major companies.

Narcissism-based economy

Not the least of the downsides to this situation is the fact that it’s evidence of the prevalence of narcissism in our culture. We can’t get enough of ourselves! We love to see ourselves retouched to look young, transformed to look old, digitally converted to the opposite sex, or what have you, and companies are taking advantage of this to make huge amounts of money (not all the filters in FaceApp are free, for instance) and to mine our information with dubious intentions.

This is not to say that using FaceApp or Snapchat filters or similar tools on occasion is necessarily bad or a vice, if we do it for a laugh or out of curiosity. It can be fun and entertaining. The problem is that our culture is becoming obsessed with self-image, and this vulnerability is being used in ways that are not to our advantage.

However, there’s another side to this app. Beyond the laughs, beyond the security concerns, there is a deeper lesson we can learn.

The upside: A reminder of where we came from, and where we’re going

Many people who’ve shared their selfie — retouched thanks to FaceApp’s powerful aging algorithms — have commented that they end up looking like their parents, or perhaps their grandparents. It’s a reminder that we aren’t isolated individuals, surrounded by a bubble as we tap away on our phones, snap selfies, and share them and transform them in countless ways, sending digital versions of our likeness through electromagnetic waves in the air. We are part of a story written in faces of flesh and blood. It’s ironic that this virtual tool is reminding us vividly of this down-to-earth, age-old truth.

We’re not a carbon copy of our predecessors, but we carry very real traces of our parents written in our bodies. Above all, we carry traces of our heavenly Father. If we almost obsessively seek different versions of our own face, perhaps it’s in part because we’re seeking His face without realizing it, a face that will anchor us in something beyond our fleeting and mutable selves. We’re “the generation that seeks Him, that seeks the face of the God of Jacob” (Psalm 24:6).

Every person’s face reflects their connection to their biological parents, and confirms that we didn’t come into this world as isolated monologues, but as voices in a larger story, one that ultimately begins and ends with the One who is our Creator, Redeemer, and Judge.

We can’t know how the next chapters of the story will sculpt our faces. FaceApp can’t predict what wounds and scars might appear on our faces, and there’s no magic mirror that can tell us what we will truly look like in ten years. However, we can remember the lesson that, to understand ourselves, we have to learn from those who entered the story before us and have helped shape our past and present, and build our own part of the story around the One who never changes.


Read more:
How to opt out of the culture of narcissism

Read more:
The Church of England issues 10 commandments for using social media

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