You may have recently noticed a large chunk of your friends online sharing photos of themselves digitally altered using the app, FaceApp. Sure, some of them have been faintly amusing – but a number of users have noticed there is a serious problem with the app.
Users have accused FaceApp of racism as it emerged that those with darker skin tones saw their skin lightened and features made to look more European when they selected the app’s “hot” filter.
The free app can also make users look older, “more attractive” or a different gender. So far, so typical for a face-morphing app. But it's apparently more technologically advanced than others as it "uses neural networks to modify a face on any photo while keeping it photorealistic," reported Motherboard. A "neural network" is a computer system designed to mimic the human brain and nervous system.
Technologically impressive or not, many users shared evidence of the app’s whitewashing on social media – and the images really are as appalling as they sound.
The app also has also removed users' glasses and changed their features to render them virtually unrecognisable.
FaceApp apologised for the criticism and renamed the "hot" filter to "spark" – but it still lightens users' skin. Yaroslav Goncharov, CEO and founder of the company behind the app, told Motherboard it is "deeply sorry for this unquestionably serious issue".
He added: "It is an unfortunate side-effect of the underlying neural network caused by the training set bias, not intended behaviour.
"To mitigate the issue, we have renamed the effect to exclude any positive connotation associated with it. We are also working on the complete fix that should arrive soon," Goncharov continued.
FaceApp isn't the first app to be criticised for racism. Snapchat faced a backlash for its "yellowface" filter, which modified user's faces and added slanted eyes. Many described it as a racist caricature of East Asians.