FaceApp and Barking Up the Wrong Tree

Don't we all love a nice storm in a teacup especially with some Russian jam on the side? The last storm in a teacup is FaceApp. Oh my god, it stole all those westerner faces, personally identified them and loaded them in a Russian database. Everyone run for the hills, Russians under our bed and in our phones.

Well, no. It is an F... Again... in Computer science and math. Doing this would have saturated the Internet link into St Petersburg for months and would have required storage capacity which simply does not exist in Russia at present (it is being built for their Data Retention legislation by the way).

This does not mean that is not nefarious. It is extremely likely that it is, but in a completely different way.

  • Nearly all of its standard filters are the police ones. They are what you will find in a specialized police application.
  • Nearly all of their filters are essential in the development of face recog which can cope with the subject trying to alter their appearance to avoid surveillance.
  • It does not need to copy a single user picture to St Petersburg to reap the benefits of loading a gigantic database of diverse user pictures in it. It can and probably does load the Machine Learning state and the various additional algos which were tested 100% on Western infrastructure such as Amazon Web Services and Google Cloud. This is completely and absolutely legal and legit as per our and their Data Protection laws.

If you find the idea of us voluntarily training a police state apparatus worrying, well... you have seen nothing yet. This it is only one piece of the puzzle.

The other pieces of the puzzle are that Russia is now the world leader in police state recog. Despite their obvious advantage from having gigantic datasets which span years both Facebook and Google seem to lag behind them.

Compared to known western deployments the Russians seem to be building it and using it correctly with appropriate operational procedures. They do not even hide it - most of it went public around and after the World Cup and you can find all of the details in the Moscow mayor requests for additional funding to expand the system.

When Comrade Xi went there a few months back to do some shopping he did not just trade on things related to 5G and its obvious application as a Stealth Busting Radar. He also shopped face recog. China which has been trying face recog for policing purposes for several years have practically admitted that their development is not there yet by buying the Russian one. They did it after the meeting and there were more than one instance of it including purchasing whole companies.

So all in all, no faces and no personal data was stolen here.

There is no need to - the goal has been achieved and the AI has been trained for standard police tasks using datasets not readily available to the Russians - black, latin american, asian, non-Slavic caucasian, etc. They can now use it themselves or sell to someone we would not like to have it. Like Khomeini or Assad.

So, did you upload anything different from a Hamster photo to FaceApp?

If you did, congratulations, you just helped building software which is clearly intended for running a police state. Even if the original developer did not have such intention, the result is exactly that and someone who understands the result can and will give him an offer he cannot refuse - it is guaranteed to be used for that purpose in the end.

Did you upload a hamster? Congratulations again. Negative matches are also useful in training a machine learning/AI algorithm. So you once again helped the development.