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You might want to think twice before using Self-Portrait Apps

Data Privacy isn't cheap

Barrett Dilger

Self Portrait App

We’ve seen it a dozen times. You scroll along through Instagram and you start seeing some really cool images. People are dropping amazing looking CGI images and it’s clearly the newest and coolest toy to play with. You find out what app they are using and you jump on the hype train and start posting your own cool pics.

No need to raise your hand if you’re guilty…we all know it 😉

Filters were cool, but in the past handful of years they’ve gotten much better. You can change lighting and do touch-ups, it’s amazingly easy. Then you can go crazy and do things like cartoonize yourself into some awesome drawing or cute caricature. 

It’s all fun and games, and it’s cheap entertainment. A couple of bucks for an avatar pack is no big deal. Even premium memberships in the $35 range are still relatively cheap for such powerful apps to play with. It’s just a harmless digital sandbox to play in. No big deal, right?

That’s what they’d like you to think. The true cost isn’t what gets charged to your credit card. The higher price being paid is in you giving up your privacy.

Do I really have to worry about data privacy?

You might be thinking this to yourself. You don’t really have anything to hide, and you sort of expect that everything is out on the internet these days, so it really doesn’t matter. That’s a bad perspective to take because I guarantee there is a line drawn somewhere that if crossed you’d be upset because it’s nobody’s business but yours.

Privacy laws are getting stronger (which is good for customers like you and me) and as they develop more we get to see behind the curtain a bit. For instance, GDPR makes it a requirement for software developers to tell you what data they collect and what they do with it.

If you take a look at the fine details of these disclosures, you’ll probably be surprised at what you find. For example, one of the most popular AI filters right now is Lensa AI. We’ll use them as an example of what privacy you are giving up.

Tracking Data

Once you install Lensa AI, the app can track your phone activity. The privacy statement in the Apple app store says that they can track you by your purchases and device ID.  That makes sense, right? They need to track what purchases in their app you have made and what device you are using to do so. True, that does make sense.

But that isn’t what the disclosure states. It says, “The following data may be used to track you across apps and websites owned by other companies: Purchase History and Device ID”.

They can, and probably are, tracking you across websites and apps owned by other companies.

The data trail goes deeper…

There are many data indicators that Lensa AI tracks. It tracks you in two ways; The first is with specific identifiers such as your name, phone number, and IP address. The second is generalized data not specifically linked to you, such as purchases you make on websites, usage data of apps, diagnostics from your phone, and generalized identifiers like city or gender.

Loss of your rights

What Lensa AI and similar apps do with your data is unclear. Many tech companies use very vague language to leave flexibility for interpretation.

For instance, the Lensa AI privacy policy states that they do not rent or sell your personal data to any third parties outside the Company or its Affiliates. Not renting or selling your info sounds good, until you look at their affiliate listing which lists third-party advertising partners. So they don’t rent or sell your data unless they have a deal with a company to rent or sell your data to. Got it.

Likewise, the privacy policy talks about what they don’t use your photos for, listing more than a handful of topics you might be concerned with. That’s great.  If you look at their terms of use, they state something similar that your photos and content belong to you. However, that section continues by saying they can license your content and share it with third parties. Not sold, but shared. If they want to do so, then they can create a permit/license so they can do so “for the purpose of our usage.”

One further, they state that “solely for the purposes of operating or improving Lensa” they are granted rights to reproduce, modify, and distribute your content. This is all at their whim. “Operating or improving Lensa” can mean anything they want it to. Simply functioning in business is operating, or making money is operating and improving the company. They essentially have full rights to your images, selfies and all.

What can you do?

I’m not picking on Lensa AI. They are one of a multitude of apps that handle your data in this way. But just because “everybody is doing it” doesn’t make it right.  So how do you handle data privacy in a real and practical way?

Don’t follow fads

New things come and go. When they pop up everybody wants to be part of it. It might take some self-training, but don’t do that. Just wait. Either the fad will die out or the app will get fleshed out.

Read the Privacy Statement and Terms & Conditions

I know…boring! But scrolling through the topics will show you what they are collecting and how they use it (even if it is vague). A lot of times you are giving up a ton of rights without knowing it. Other times it seems to check out as you expect. At least you’ll have a better idea about what’s going on.

By the way, the more you do this the faster you will get at it, and it becomes easier to understand.

Restrict data collection

Sometimes we need to use apps that will collect data. Be it for selfie filters or whatnot. You can restrict the data collection to some level when in this situation.

Use your phone’s privacy settings to turn off data sharing. For some apps, including Lensa AI, you can turn off the advertising ID so that isn’t tracked for you. It’s one thing you can restrict.

If you want to get a little more hardcore, you can use a VPN on your mobile device to mask your IP and hide details of your web usage. It doesn’t stop apps from tracking you, but it makes the data inaccurate to you and therefore worthless for their purposes.

Data privacy is a big issue, and more is changing every day. If you have any questions regarding your privacy, get in touch!