United States

App Apprehension: What You Give Away Online Could Cost You

Experts are warning that some of those apps you download for harmless fun could be putting your information at risk.

Millions saw themselves decades older by taking the “Face App challenge.” Face App is owned by a Russian-based company that requires users to provide full access to their personal photos and data.

TaShanda and Tyell Jones couldn’t resist joining in on the viral craze.

“I needed to make sure I’m going to look nice when I get older,” said Tyell.

“Something fun like this will lure you in,” said TaShanda.

At 16, Tyell Jones wasn’t too worried about the consequences.

“I’m going to still use it. No matter what’s in it,” said Jones.

His mom TaShanda, however, had reservations after learning she may have signed up for more than what she originally thought.

“I deleted the whole thing. I didn’t even want them having access to me or anything,” said TaShanda.

Face App is not the only app that’s raising questions after skyrocketing in popularity. TikTok, developed by a Chinese based company, has come under scrutiny by lawmakers. In a letter to the acting director of National Intelligence, lawmakers point out TikTok’s terms of service and privacy policies. They described how the company collects data from its users and their devices, including user content and communications, IP address, location-related data, and other sensitive personal information.

“Would you want to give away your DNA and lose control of it, probably not,” said Jonathan Stone.

Jonathan Stone, chief technology officer at Kelser Corporation, says you may be giving up a lot more than its worth.

“It’s like you’re giving away part of your digital identity by giving away enough information about your face to create these full facial videos,” said Stone.

Assistant Attorney General Jeremy Pearlman heads up the Attorney General’s Privacy and Data Department, which is charged with tackling data breaches and other privacy issues.

“I think people when they share information in general, there’s a possibility that they are putting themselves at risk,” Pearlman said.

According to Pearlman, the agency keeps tabs on mobile applications to vet for possible national security threats. It could mean storing data on U.S. users in servers located outside of the country.

“We scrutinize each company independently, I don’t think necessarily just because it’s a Russian company means that it’s going to receive any more scrutiny than any other app that could exploit consumers,” said Pearlman.

In the future, TaShanda and Tyell said they will pay closer attention to what they’re downloading and uploading to their phones.

“If it says something that I don’t want like I’m not going to want to use it,’ said Tyell.

“You don’t think cautiously, you’re just in the moment,” said TaShanda.

The Attorney General’s office encourages consumers to read the terms and conditions before downloading any app. Make sure to review your privacy settings and delete unused apps.

TikTok released a statement to NBC Connecticut Investigates which reads in part:

“At TikTok, we take these issues incredibly seriously as well. We are committed to transparency and accountability in how we support our TikTok users in the US and around the world.” The company also stated: “The TikTok app does not operate in China, and we are building out and empowering teams in the markets where it does operate.”

We’re still waiting for a response from Face App.

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