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Security & privacy

App that turns your face into a cartoon takes social media by storm – Is it safe?

If you logged on to social media recently, you would have undoubtedly seen the latest trend. People have been turning their selfies into cartoon versions through a photo app, giving them a wide-eyed Disney prince or princess look.

Apps like these have been popular before, and they usually disappear just as fast. A good example of this was the FaceApp mobile application back in 2019. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, everybody started to turn their selfies into 80-year-old versions of themselves.

Whenever apps like these increase in popularity, user privacy and data collection by the developers raise eyebrows. It is especially concerning with apps that use your photo and can potentially access your mobile data. So, is the latest cartoon craze a threat to privacy?

Here’s the backstory on the cartoon app

The photo-changing application, Voilà AI Artist Cartoon Photo, is available on Facebook as an in-platform app. But it’s also available as a standalone application for iOS and Android

“Voilà AI Artist (is) a special little app that turns your photos into stunning pieces of art such as Pixar Inspired Cartoon, Renaissance Painting, Hand Drawn Caricature by combining Human’s creativity and Artificial Intelligence’s capabilities,” reads the description on Apple’s App Store.

Start by uploading a photo of yourself, and once the app has worked its magic, you can choose from a variety of filters. These range from looks inspired by Pixar and Disney, 2D cartoons or caricatures.

On Android, the app has seen 10 million downloads with over 33,000 reviews. At the time of writing, the most common complaint was that the servers crash due to a sudden influx of new users.

Voila AI Artist’s privacy policy

To list on any app store, developers must include a link to the privacy policy and the terms of use. The Canadian-based developer Wemagine.AI claims to comply with the California Privacy Protection Act, the California Consumer Privacy Act, and for European activities, comply with the European Union General Data Protection Regulations.

Using the app, you automatically agree that Wemagine.AI can collect information associated with you. This includes:

  • Your computer’s IP address.
  • Internet browser type and browser version.
  • Your mobile device unique ID.
  • The IP address of your mobile device.
  • Through Google Analytics, the company also collects your location.

It might seem like a scary list of things, but it’s standard for the mobile development industry. While you upload your photos, you might wonder what happens to them afterward. Well, in the privacy statement, the company confirms that all photos vanish within 48 hours.

“We also configure Google Cloud Platform to delete photographs, and the information associated with the photographs within 24-48 hours after the photograph was last used the App. This allows you to revisit the image for additional modifications during that time,” the privacy statement reads.

On Apple’s App Store, it lists the only data that is collected to track you is your device’s ID. Other collected data is not linked to your personally.

Some troubling wording

Anything that gets transmitted over the internet (whether uploaded or downloaded) is susceptible to being hacked. In rather frank language, Wemagine.AI is aware of it and wants users to know this.

Under the heading “Security of Data,” the developer points out that even though they “use commercially acceptable means to protect your Personal Data,” they can’t guarantee it.

“The security of your data is important to us but remember that no method of transmission over the Internet or method of electronic storage is 100% secure. We cannot guarantee its absolute security,” they explain.

Wemagine.AI can also share your data with others, which you agree to when accepting the app’s terms. The company shares your personal information with:

  • Subsidiaries and affiliates.
  • Contractors, service providers, and other third parties the company uses to support its business.

When asked, the company will also share your data with law enforcement. “Under certain circumstances, we may be required to disclose your Personal Data if required to do so by law or in response to valid requests by public authorities.”

In our investigation of privacy and terms of use, the cartoon app appears to comply with industry practices. In addition, the company is open about its operations and makes links to the terms of use readily available.

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