The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has issued a warning about mobile apps developed in Russia, saying they could be a “potential counterintelligence threat.” The revelation was made when the agency addressed questions about face-editing photo app FaceApp, which was developed by St. Petersburg-based Wireless Lab. Its CEO, Yaroslav Goncharov, was an executive at Yandex, known as “Russia’s Google.”
The app, which uses a filter to age photos of users’ faces, has received negative attention for its Russian ties, prompting the Democratic National Committee to caution its 2020 presidential candidates against using it. In addition, Democratic U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called for the FBI and the Federal Trade Commission to conduct national security reviews on the app.
While there is no evidence that FaceApp provides user data to the Russian government, the FBI wrote in a letter to Schumer that Russia’s intelligence services maintain “robust cyber exploitation capabilities,” allowing the government under local laws to “remotely access all communications and servers on Russian networks without making a request to ISPs.”
The company, however, has denied selling or sharing user data with third parties, saying it never transfers user data to Russia, and most submitted images are deleted within 48 hours.
Russia’s apps aren’t alone when coming under scrutiny. In September, Facebook revealed it had suspended “tens of thousands” of apps due to an investigation into how developers use its members’ data. In addition, the company filed a lawsuit in May against Rankwave, a South Korean data analytics company that would not cooperate with its investigation into apps. There has also been legal action taken against LionMobi and JediMobi, two companies that used their apps to infect users’ phones with malware, as well as two Ukrainian men accused of using quiz apps to scrape users’ data from Facebook’s platform.