If you've seen friends post photos of themselves looking like Anime characters, with smoothed-over skin, a slightly pink glow, and large eyes, those effects likely come courtesy of an app called Meitu. The selfie app is similar to Snow, a Snapchat-like app that's wildly popular in South Korea, and offers filters with dreamy names such as Fairy Tale, Blossoms, Angelic, and Petals. While the app launched in 2013 and quickly became popular in China, it's only gained traction in the U.S. in the past few weeks. The cause of this surge in popularity isn't entirely clear, but it could be due to Twitter users, who have taken to putting Donald Trump's face through Meitu's beautifying filters.
But if you're thinking about downloading it for some retouching fun of your own, you might want to think twice. The app's permissions provide it access to your phone's serial number, SMS messages, calendars, and contacts. "The types of information being collected and where it's being sent should raise concerns about how [your] data is being used," says Gary Davis, the chief consumer security evangelist for Intel Security. Plenty of apps ask for permissions to access different applications on your phone, but what raises red flags with Meitu is that it's asking for access to information that it doesn't need. "For example, it would make sense for a GPS application to ask for your contacts so it can easily get directions when needed," Davis says. "However, this type of access is not required when enhancing photos."
Even though it can feel like second-nature to grant an app permission, look closely to make sure that what the app is asking for aligns with the service it's providing. Otherwise, you're freely allowing developers to peek inside your photos, know your location, and read your texts. In a statement provided to TechCrunch, Meitu says that it does not sell data and that its "sole purpose for collecting the data is to optimize app performance, its effects and features and to better understand our consumer engagement with in-app advertisements." The statement goes on to say that Meitu encrypts user data to secure users against hackers. But in situations where you're providing access to your phone, you're right to be cautious. If you want to see how much access you've granted to the apps already on your phone — and, in some cases, adjust it — go to your phone's Settings. Clicking on each app will show you what it can access. Playing with filters is fun, as long as using them doesn't put you — or your data — at risk.