An online controversy surrounding the Facebook “NewProfilePic” photo-to-avatar app is likely to end up amid more confusion.
The Daily Mail reported Wednesday the app could be stealing information for Russia, and the fact-checking website Snopes said the news outlet’s story is not true the same day.
According to the Daily Mail, the app, available in both the Apple and Google stores, comes from a company with offices in Moscow, Russia, where the photos uploaded by users go, and are stored.
“A new phone app which offers users a free digital avatar is taking facial-recognition quality photographs and sending them to Moscow, prompting major concerns within the cybersecurity community,” the publication said in its story Wednesday. “Tens of thousands of people have already uploaded their photographs to the servers of the NewProfilePic app in return for the free avatar. However, many will be unaware that the company behind the app, Linerock Investments, is based in an apartment complex overlooking the Moscow River, beside Russia’s Ministry of Defense and just three miles from Red Square.”
Jake Moore, a global cybersecurity expert, told the Mail that people should be wary of uploading photos or personal information to a new website like this one.
“This app is likely a way of capturing people’s faces in high resolution, and I would question any app wanting this amount of data, especially one which is largely unheard of and based in another country,” Moore told the Mail. “Although most people will not question the possibilities of anything untoward occurring from simply uploading a photo, the amount of data taken under the radar can often be far more than the user intended on sharing which can cause security and privacy problems.”
According to the report, Linerock Investments Ltd. is the company that owns the app and is registered in Moscow.
The same day as the Mail published the story, the fact-checking website Snopes said there is no evidence to support claims that the app is stealing information for Russia, or that it is “unusually invasive” compared to the permissions requested by other apps.
“In sum, the claim that this app is unusually invasive is untrue. Its requested app permissions are similar to other mainstream apps,” Snopes reported Wednesday. “The claim that this app is stealing data for the Kremlin is also unsupported by evidence. This app was developed by a company in the British Virgin Islands that uses a team of international developers, some of whom live in Russia. Lastly, the claim that users of this app had money taken out of their bank accounts is, so far, unsubstantiated.”
Snopes pointed out that the app is part of a company that has delivered several other similar photo apps, including ToonMe and PhotoLab.
According to the company’s LinkedIn page, “For over 10 years, Linerock Investments, Ltd. has developed cutting edge online photo processing solutions. Its flagship app, Photo Lab, has been downloaded over 200 million times to date, with over 200K daily users.”
Questions Over Russian Connection Swirl Around Facebook Photo App – Newsmax