- Social media users are downloading a popular Russian-owned app called FaceApp to alter their photos with features like its aging filer.
- However, many have raised concerns about the app’s privacy policies and terms of service, accusing the company of collecting user data to sell to third parties or share with Russia.
- The company released a statement saying it does not do either of those things.
- However, other concerns about the app and what it specifically does with user data still exist.
FaceApp Challenge Goes Viral
FaceApp is a Russian app that uses artificial intelligence to alter photos of people’s faces. The app is two years old, but a recent FaceApp challenge has prompted the app to trend again. Users are posting photos of themselves with an aging filter that adds a few decades of wrinkles to their faces.
The trend has caught on with celebrities, many of whom have posted their own photos. Drake showed us what promo for his farewell tour might look like.
The Jonas Brothers gave us a glimpse of the year 3000.
Scooter Braun showed the damage a Taylor Swift controversy might do to your skin.
Here’s what Lil Nas X might look like after severe back pain stops him from taking his horse down the old town road.
We also got a peek of what Piers Morgan might look like in a month or so.
Celebrity photos and jokes aside, there is actually a big controversy surrounding FaceApp and the access it has to information on users’ phones. Many voiced their concerns on Twitter, though much of the fears turned out to be speculation.
Developer Joshua Nozzi said that he believed the app might be “uploading all your photos.”
Others brought up the app’s Russian ownership.
“You grant FaceApp a perpetual, irrevocable, nonexclusive, royalty-free, worldwide, fully-paid, transferable sub-licensable license to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, create derivative works from, distribute, publicly perform and display your User Content and any name, username or likeness provided in connection with your User Content in all media formats and channels now known or later developed, without compensation to you,” the policy reads.
This essentially means that the app can take your photos and use them on their own. Many say that this could mean content could get used for marketing purposes.
“We use third-party analytics tools to help us measure traffic and usage trends for the Service,” the policy states. “These tools collect information sent by your device or our Service, including the web pages you visit, add-ons, and other information that assists us in improving the Service.”
The policy also says that while it will not sell your data to third parties, it can “share certain information such as cookie data with third-party advertising partners.”
FaceApp Addresses Concerns
FaceApp gave a statement to TechCrunch on Wednesday about some of the app’s policies to clarify some of the rumors spreading online.
FaceApp said that photos are processed in the cloud, but it debunked Nozzi’s theory that it was downloading all photos from your camera roll.
“FaceApp performs most of the photo processing in the cloud,” their statement reads. “We only upload a photo selected by a user for editing. We never transfer any other images from the phone to the cloud.”
At the bottom of the statement, they linked to Nozzi’s tweet, which has now been deleted, specifically to drive their point home.
“We don’t do that. We upload only a photo selected for editing. You can quickly check this with any of network sniffing tools available on the internet.”
The statement 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.”
The statement said that the company accepts requests from users to remove all their data from its servers. They also added that the app’s features are available without logging in and said that 99% of users don’t log in, meaning that in most cases, they don’t have access to any data that could identify a person.
In its final points, the company confirmed that it does not sell data to third parties, and does not transfer information to Russia.
Many don’t think the statement answered enough questions. For example, it did not address the app’s right to use your data, which is mentioned in the terms of service, or other marketing concerns.
However, outlets like the Independent have noted that this is “fairly standard within such apps.”
Back in 2017, the chair of the Australian Privacy Foundation, David Vaile, spoke to the Australia Broadcasting Company about this lack of transparency.
“They ask for way more rights than they need to offer the service to you,” Vaile said. “It is impossible to tell from this what happens when you upload it, that is the problem. The licence is so lax.”
See what others are saying: (The Independent) (Mashable) (Tech Crunch)
The Onision Controversy Explained
- Controversial YouTuber Onision has been accused of predatory behavior by multiple women, with many claiming that he groomed them to have sex with him once they turned 18.
- Many of these girls have spoken out, saying his partner Kai has aided him in this misconduct.
- Chris Hansen has been speaking to many of the women involved and announced on Wednesday that the FBI is investigating.
- Onision has denied the allegations and has posted a series of videos where he claims he is retiring but has continued to post online.
Who is Onision?
Controversial YouTuber Onision has been making headlines over the past week for a variety of reasons, including being banned from Patreon and posting videos claiming he is retiring. This follows years of accusations of grooming and predatory behavior.
James Jackson, known on the Internet as Onision and to many others as Greg, has been on YouTube since 2006. He has multiple channels with over one million followers and has been embattled in controversy for much of his time online.
His now ex-wife Skye appeared in his videos, with some elements of his divorce in 2010 broadcasted online. One of his first major controversies to bleed into the YouTube industry, however, happened in 2012 when he was banned from VidCon.
An ex-girlfriend of his made remarks that she felt he pressured her into having sex. He addressed these claims in a video and repeatedly referred to the number of people she had slept with and used her derogatory words including the word whore. He insinuated that because of this, she could not be sexually assaulted.
“To be only 26 and to have slept with over 20 people is ridiculous,” Jackson said. “And of course she goes to insinuate that when we did make love, that I was forcing her into it, that I was pressuring her into it and she didn’t really want to. That’s funny coming from someone who has slept with over 20 people.”
This ended up landing him in hot water with a lot of YouTubers, several of whom posted videos of their own calling these comments slut-shaming. Some also said they believed Jackson was being accused of a serious crime and should not brush that off. Many people spread a petition that was actually a year old at that point, calling for people to unsubscribe from him and to get YouTube to revoke its partnership with him.
Because there was so much backlash and outrage over Jackson’s video, he announced on Facebook that he would not be attending VidCon. He said he received an email from VidCon founder Hank Green saying his presence could create a hostile and unsafe environment.
Accusations Against Jackson and Anderson
More recent controversies surround serious allegations against him. Several girls have claimed that Jackson and his partner Kai Anderson have groomed them from a young age to later be involved in a sexual relationship. The two have denied these allegations. Rogue Rocket reached out to Jackson and his team for comments regarding the accusations. They said that “any involvement regarding interview or questions is $10,000.”
Jackson’s relationship with Anderson began when Anderson was 17. At the time, Anderson went by the name of “Lainey” and identified as a woman. He has since transitioned and identifies as a male. When their relationship began, they would drive across state lines to legally have sexual encounters. They are now married with two kids, and many of the accusations claim that Jackson has used Anderson to lure girls in.
One of the most recent incidents comes from a girl named Sarah. She began talking to Anderson and Jackson online when she was a 13-year-old fan, and was mainly interested in Anderson.
By the time she was 14 and 15, she claims they started texting and sent flirty messages, including a topless photo of her. Sarah says when she was 16, she was going through some personal and family troubles and she ended up moving in with Jackson and Anderson. She lived with them on and off for a couple of years.
Sarah claims that when she first moved in, the relationship was not sexual at all, though there were romantic insinuations like physical contact and cuddling. She added, however, that the relationship became sexual after she turned 18.
Sarah, now 19, did a livestream at the end of August discussing their relationship, which started a big conversation online. She ended up being interviewed by YouTuber Blaire White, who frequently posts about Jackson and the allegations against him.
“It hurts to say this, but I feel like they knew what they were doing,” Sarah said of Jackson and Anderson inviting her to live with them as a teenager in order to later have sex with her when she was of legal age.
“Yeah. I think anyone watching this probably feels the same,” White responded. “That there’s no reason really to have a teenager move in with you, send the message they sent, and then conveniently and coincidentally be intimate with you after you turn 18.”
In later interviews, Sarah explicitly said that she felt that she was groomed.
While speaking with White, she added that in the time before she turned 18, Jackson often forced her to act like there was nothing flirty about their relationship. She claimed he told her what to say in a video posted to one of his channels, despite her not wanting to be in it.
“He really pressured me into making it. And I didn’t want to,” she said. “I have bloopers of me literally having a mental breakdown, like sobbing because I was just so overwhelmed.”
She added that he also would lie about their relationship.
“And also what hurt me a lot was having to watch him say ‘Oh we don’t even hug Sarah, we don’t even do this or that.’ And it’s like, I’m sitting there at 16 watching this like ‘yes you do,’” she told White.
White also questioned Sarah about an NDA she was allegedly forced to sign.
“You told me off-camera that you signed an NDA the morning after you were intimate with them for the first time,” White said.
“Yeah,” Sarah responded. “He and Kai decided that everyone in their life needed to sign an NDA and I was no exception to that. The NDA was 1000% for me to not do what I’m doing right now.”
In September, not long after Sarah told her story, another girl by the name of Shiloh posted to Twitter about her relationship with Jackson. Many knew some details about her story, as they were public and posted on YouTube when they dated in 2011. This series of tweets, however, painted a larger picture.
Shiloh says she first began contacting Jackson when she was a singer in Canada. They would talk on Skype while he was still married to his first wife. She was 17, and Jackson told her about his divorce, adding that he loved her.
Shiloh claims that he ended up meeting her in a hotel in Pennsylvania after researching that it would be legal for them to have sexual relations there. The first thing he said to her was, “I can’t wait to get you pregnant.”
When the police learned of Jackson’s presence in the hotel with Shiloh, she claims they asked him to leave. According to Shiloh, there were cameras present in the room and they searched for child pornography. Shiloh has since said that the cameras were not recording at the time.
She says that after this encounter, he began to alienate Shiloh from her mother. He rented an apartment near where she lived and waited until she turned 18. He convinced her to get a tattoo with his name while she was still underage.
The tweets then turn to discuss alleged incidents of control and manipulation. Shiloh claims he locked her out of a room while she cried and begged for him not to while he masturbated to porn. She also said that she sometimes slept next to his office chair so she could wake up and service him.
She claimed that he shaved her head during sex to degrade her and give her a list of rules to follow. She says she was told to not consume intoxicating substances, wear makeup or bras, have social media accounts without him knowing the password, among other things.
At one turning point, she claims he filmed a breakdown while she was trying to leave him. She alleges that the police took her to a mental health facility because when he didn’t let her call her mom, she threatened suicide while he was on the phone with the police.
They broke up after this, but he “lured” her back in and let her pick an engagement ring. She said that their sexual encounters were sometimes so aggressive she was in physical distress.
Shiloh then says she became pregnant, but the fetus died and did not pass, meaning it was not a full miscarriage. She explained that she was at risk of going septic but he refused to pay for her healthcare. She ended up going back to Canada, where she ended up going into labor.
He ended up posting a video announcing their break-up and she claims he cast her as a liar.
While she was in the hospital, Shiloh’s mother hid her passport so she could not return to see him. Jackson gave her $1,100 to get a new one. She says she spent the money elsewhere and got away from him.
Another girl named Billie has also come forward with her story. She had posted about some of the toxic elements of their relationship before. In 2017, she tweeted that he wanted to punish her after she smoked marijuana. The punishments included getting a tattoo and chaining herself to a wall.
She revealed more when speaking with Dateline and To Catch a Predator’s Chris Hansen. Hansen currently has a YouTube presence where he has extensively covered Jackson’s case. He has reached out to speak with Jackson, but Jackson said he would only speak for $350,000.
During her interview, Billie said that the relationship started when Anderson messaged her online. When she was over 18, she was flown out to meet Anderson and Jackson in person and visit them at their home.
She claimed she was mainly interested in Anderson and had no idea what she was getting into when she visited the first time. Jackson was insistent that he watch the two of them kiss. On their first visit, she says nothing sexual happened, however, this changed when she came back again.
She also said that she does not think anything illegal happened between her, Anderson, or Jackson, but noted that she felt they were always walking towards the line. Much of the time she visited overlapped with Sarah living there, and Billie did say that she felt something illegal could have happened with Sarah. She did not specify what laws may have been broken.
Billie said that when the two were there, they would spend time with Jackson and Anderson’s kids and did a lot of “babysitting.”
“But if it was both of us, that’s what we were doing,” she told Hansen. “Babysitting, cleaning, helping cook food, just you know helping with whatever general grocery shopping kind of thing.“
“Did you get paid to do this?” Hansen asked.
Billie said she was not paid to do this but was paid for social media moderation.
“It sounds like they treated you like the help, and the help was expected to service them sexually,” Hansen said. “Is that fair?”
“Yeah, I feel like the dynamics just really weird,” Billie said.
She also claimed she had to sign contracts like Sarah did, saying she signed between four or five.
Billie’s interview with Hansen ended with Hansen making an announcement.
“I should let you and our audience know that I did have a conversation with the FBI yesterday. We’re breaking news here,” he said. “And obviously there is evidence that some young women have that could very well be of interest to investigators.”
He claimed that while Jackson and Anderson were careful when it came to their physical sexual relationships, there could be cases of transmission of child pornography. In a previous interview with YouTuber Daniel Sulzbach, also known by Repzion, Sulzbach said that there could be many cases of this.
Sulzbach claimed that Jackson had deleted online forums after Hansen started talking about him online, likely because young girls were posting photos in those forum discussion threads.
“There’s archived stuff of images of girls from the age of, literally 12, all the way to 16 or 17 years of age and they’re all scantily clad or sometimes just their underwear.”
On Wednesday, Hansen told his audience that the FBI is investigating.
Recent Scandals and Content
Jackson has seemingly gone unscathed and remains on many of the platforms he has a strong presence on. This changed on November 26 when he was banned from Patreon for doxxing.
He tweeted a screenshot of texts he said he sent to Billie, but included her phone number. The tweet was removed within an hour of it being posted, and Patreon considered this to be doxxing, which is a violation of their policy.
“Yes, we removed Onision from Patreon as he violated our Bullying and Harassment as it relates to doxing,” they said in a statement to The Verge.
Jackson responded to the news of his ban in a meltdown on YouTube that day, then followed with an apology video. On Wednesday he made another video where he announced his retirement, though it appeared to not be serious.
He continued to post tweets throughout Wednesday, some of which contained sexually explicit language. He also tweeted a link to a new website for his fans. He did a livestream playing video games.
On Thursday he posted another video called “left” where he packed his bags as though he was leaving. This video also contained meltdowns and appeared to have been made in jest.
Former Employees Say They Were Fired from Google for Speaking Up. Here’s Why They’re Suing.
- Google fired four employees for allegedly accessing sensitive information and leaking it to the press.
- Tuesday, those employees denied the claims they had leaked confidential information and sued Google for “unfair labor practices,” alleging the tech company had fired them in retaliation for organizing workers’ movements.
- At the same time, Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin stepped down from their executive positions with Google’s parent company, Alphabet.
- They then handed control of Alphabet over to current Google CEO Sundar Pichai.
Fired Employees Sue Google
Four recently-fired Google engineers announced they would be suing Google for unfair business practices.
The former employees allege they were fired in retaliation after participating in organizing several workplace movements within the company.
“We spoke up when we saw Google making unethical business decisions that create a workplace that is harmful to us and our colleagues,” the four said in a joint Medium statement. “We participated in legally protected labor organizing, fighting to improve workplace conditions for all Google workers. We joined together to hold Google accountable for the impact on our workplace of its business decisions, policies, and practices on a range of topics.”
Google fired the engineers on Nov. 25 for allegedly accessing sensitive information and then leaking that information to the press. Google then reportedly sent an email to employees titled “Securing our data,” which said those four employees had accessed data that was “outside the scope of their jobs.”
In their Medium post, the former employees denied that they had leaked any sensitive information.
“This is flatly untrue,” they said, “and in the privacy of our meetings with HR and Google’s internal investigations team, the company acknowledged this.”
“It’s about trying to stop all workplace organizing,” they added. “Google wants to send a message to everyone: if you dare to engage in protected labor organizing, you will be punished.”
In an interview with BuzzFeed News, those employees elaborated, saying they had accessed information outside of the scope of their jobs, but they also claimed that accessing such information was not against Google policy and that it was available to anyone in the company.
Notably, some of that information included documents relating to U.S. Customs and Border Patrol.
“Viewing of others’ calendars, documents, etc., is a longstanding tradition at Google, very intentionally,” one of the employees told BuzzFeed News, “and Google provides users, including employees, a wide range of access control features to limit things when needed.”
All four former employees have also denied the claim that they leaked such information to the press, with one of the employees saying she went so far as to send office reminders to organizing workers to not leak information.
For its part, Google has offered some pushback, a spokesperson saying “no one has been dismissed for raising concerns or debating the company’s activities.”
“We dismissed four individuals who were engaged in intentional and often repeated violations of our longstanding data security policies, including systematically accessing and disseminating other employees’ materials and work,” that spokesperson said.
In September, Google settled a similar lawsuit alleging that it was not allowing employees to discuss workplace issues. While it didn’t admit to any wrongdoing, it did have to affirm that employees can discuss work-related issues.
Google Fires Four Employees
Prior to the firing, two of the engineers were placed on administrative leave.
On Nov. 22, more than 200 people protested outside of Google’s office in San Francisco to reinstate those employees; however, that pressure ultimately proved not to be enough.
After those employees were fired, some workers claimed they had been fired because of their roles in organizing movements.
“With these firings, Google is ramping up its illegal retaliation,” a group of organizing workers said in a statement. “This is classic union busting dressed up in tech industry jargon, and we won’t stand for it.”
Those four employees had all been involved in various movements, including protesting Google’s work with U.S. Customs and Border Protection to provide a cloud network and Google’s work with the Pentagon to use A.I. to interpret videos that could be used for drone strikes.
They also protested Google’s creation of Dragonfly, a search engine meant to comply with Chinese censorship laws. Google then terminated work on Dragonfly in July.
Perhaps most notably, they had also been involved in last year’s mass walkout that involved more than 20,000 Google employees. The walkout occurred after news leaked that Google had paid Android creator Andy Rubin a $90 million exit package following sexual misconduct allegations.
Google Co-Founders Step Down
In other Google-related news, both heads of its parent company, Alphabet, announced they were stepping down from their positions on Tuesday.
The two executives, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, co-founded Google together. Page had served as Alphabet’s CEO while Brin had served as the company’s president.
In a joint statement, they then handed control of Alphabet to current Google CEO Sundar Pichai.
“…it’s the natural time to simplify our management structure,” they said. “We’ve never been ones to hold on to management roles when we think there’s a better way to run the company. And Alphabet and Google no longer need two CEOs and a President.”
Both Page and Brin, however, said they will still be involved as board members and shareholders.
Following this announcement, Pichai also confirmed that none of this will have any effect on Google’s daily operations.
“I want to be clear that this transition won’t affect the Alphabet structure or the work we do day to day,” Pichai said in an email to employees. “I will continue to be very focused on Google and the deep work we’re doing to push the boundaries of computing and build a more helpful Google for everyone.”
The news of the transfer of power was widely considered not too surprising as both Page and Brin have largely stayed out of the spotlight after restructuring Google in 2015.
See what others are saying: (The Guardian) (The Verge) (CNN)
TikTok Hid Disabled Users’ Videos in an Attempt to Prevent Bullying
- After a report from German online media outlet Netzpolitik, TikTok confirmed that it prevented videos from disabled, LGBTQ, and overweight users from appearing internationally or, in some cases, on the main feed in an attempt to prevent bullying.
- The list of creators moderators looked out for included users with facial disfigurement, autism, down syndrome, and “disabled people or people with some facial problems such as a birthmark, slight quint and etc.”
- TikTok said it was a temporary policy that it nows realizes was the wrong choice, despite its “good intentions.”
- The company has since changed its anti-bullying policy, but users were shocked to learn that content was at one point being treated differently for some users.
TikTok Limited Content from Disabled Users
TikTok confirmed that it used a policy that limited videos posted by disabled users in order to prevent bullying.
According to a report released Monday by German online media outlet Netzpolitik, documents from TikTok show that it deemed these users highly vulnerable to bullying on the platform. Because of this, it designated their videos to be “Risk 4,” which means the videos could only be viewed in the country it was posted from.
Users who were considered by TikTok to be “particularly vulnerable” saw even tighter restrictions. Moderation teams in Berlin, Bejing, and Barcelona tagged content from these users “Auto R” after hitting between 6,000 and 10,000 views. So, once these videos hit a certain number of views, they landed in the “not recommend” category, meaning they can no longer appear on the app’s For You Feed.
While Netzpolotik did not say whether or not this fell under the same specific policy, their report said that this “Auto R” tag applied to more users as well. There was also a list of “special users” whose content was limited to the same extent. While some on that list did use hashtags like #disability in their posts, Netzpolitik says it extended to “users who are simply fat and self-confident” and many who depected “a rainbow flag in their biographies or describe themselves as lesbian, gay or non-binary.”
What Did the Policy Say?
TikTok citing the effects of bullying as the reasoning behind this policy.
“Bullying has been proven to cause severe emotional and physical distress, especially in minors,” a screenshot of their policy stated. “Content of subjects likely to incite cyberbullying will be allowed but marked with risk tag 4.”
As for what moderators were meant to look for specifically, they described vulnerable users as a “Subject who is susceptible to bullying or harassment based on their physical or mental condition.”
A list of examples included facial disfigurement, autism, down syndrome, and “disabled people or people with some facial problems such as a birthmark, slight quint and etc.”
Netzpolitik noted, however, that some of these cases may not always be obvious. How is a moderator supposed to recognize whether someone has a disorder from the autistic spectrum based on 15 seconds of video?” their report asks.
The outlet also spoke to sources at TikTok, one of whom said they tried to bring up the inherent flaws of this practice, but their critiques were “dismissed by the Chinese decision-makers.”
“The rules were mainly handed down from Beijing,” the report said, noting that TikTok is operated by Chinese company Bytedance.
Another TikTok source told Netzpolitik that while it continued until at least September, this was never meant to be a permanent policy.
“This approach was never intended to be a long-term solution and although we had a good intention, we realised that it was not the right approach,” the source said.
Users Upset with TikTok
Many users were upset that TikTok used this practice to address bullying, as it censored users who had not violated any rules on the platform. One user suggested it work harder to stop bullies instead of silencing those who might fall victim to it.
Another suggested that decreasing the visibility of disabled users would not make anyone less likely to be abusive towards them.
TikTok made further statements on this policy.
“We have since changed the earlier policy in favor of more nuanced anti-bullying policies and in-app protections,” they said. “We continue to grow our teams and capacity and refine and improve our policies, in our ongoing commitment to providing a safe and positive environment for our users.”
This is not the first time TikTok has come under fire for censoring its users recently. Last week, it banned a teenager who posted a video critical of the Chinese government’s treatment of Uighur Muslims. The company claimed the ban had nothing to do with this video, and happened partially because of a human moderation error and because of content posted on an old account linked to the user’s phone.
Feroza Aziz, the user in question, did not believe that answer.