FaceApp, Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat.
Always read the small print.

Last month, the media was ablaze with the news of a mobile application entitled “FaceApp” pillaging its users’ data.

Readers where aghast with the news that photographs of them, their friends or their children could be utilised for any purpose; whether to advertise FaceApp or assist in the development of facial recognition technology.

You may be surprised to learn that whilst FaceApp’s terms and conditions are admittedly lacking much legal limit, the wording used is rather similar to that used by popular social media platforms.

If you were horrified by the news of FaceApp, you perhaps need to reconsider which social media platforms you are using.

Terms and Conditions

FaceApp’s recent popularity is owed to its ability to modify a picture to show users what they will look like when they are older. The user takes a picture within the application (or uploads one) and FaceApp transforms the user’s face on their mobile phone.

According to the terms and conditions of FaceApp, that photograph and any other data the user inputs into the application can be used anywhere in the world and for almost any purpose. One article surmised that FaceApp could use a user’s photos on a billboard without seeking specific consent from the subject[1].

Unfortunately for the user, when he/she downloads and signs up to FaceApp, they accept the terms and conditions of the app, which state that:

“You grant FaceApp a perpetual, irrevocable, nonexclusive, royalty-free, worldwide, fully-paid, transferable sub-licensable license to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, create derivative works from, distribute, publicly perform and display your User Content and any name, username or likeness provided in connection with your User Content in all media formats and channels now known or later developed, without compensation to you.”

Source: https://www.faceapp.com/terms

Users are seemingly agreeing to grant a very wide and permanent licence to the developer of FaceApp (and any other person they so wish), to utilise the user’s data in whatever way he/she wants. It is therefore surprising that so many celebrities have used FaceApp[1]. According to its terms, FaceApp now has an everlasting right to use the celebrity users’ photographs for any purpose without compensation.

Social Media platforms

In light of the revelation, we looked at the terms and conditions of popular social media platforms to see how they compare with the seemingly unlimited scope of FaceApp’s terms and conditions.

Whilst missing some adjectives, the terms and conditions were surprisingly wide.

“[Y]ou grant us a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free license (with the right to sublicense) to use, copy, reproduce, process, adapt, modify, publish, transmit, display and distribute such Content in any and all media or distribution methods (now known or later developed). This license authorizes us to make your Content available to the rest of the world and to let others do the same.”

Source: https://twitter.com/en/tos#intlTerms

“[Y]ou grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free and worldwide licence to host, use, distribute, modify, run, copy, publicly perform or display, translate and create derivative works of your content (consistent with your privacy and application settings)… This licence will end when your content is deleted from our systems.”

Source: https://en-gb.facebook.com/legal/terms

“[Y]ou grant Snap Inc. and our affiliates a worldwide, royalty-free, sublicensable and transferable licence to host, store, use, display, reproduce, modify, adapt, edit, publish and distribute that content. This licence is for the limited purpose of operating, developing, providing, promoting and improving the Services and researching and developing new ones.”

Source: https://www.snap.com/en-GB/terms/

Whilst FaceApp is perhaps an extreme example of how users can be taken advantage of when blindly accepting terms and conditions, it is not unusual for popular platforms to require the granting of a wide and alarming licence to use their data.

Read the small print

So, what does this all mean? Put simply, whilst recent legislation, such as the General Data Protection Regulations (“GDPR”), has been implemented to ensure greater protection of our data, the data subject is in the best position to protect their own data.

It is easy to forego reading the lengthy and boring legal jargon but when a user of social media or mobile applications is uploading pictures of their family or sharing details of their life, it is imperative (as with all contracts) that they read the terms and conditions carefully.

As above, by using these platforms, users are likely granting a “worldwide, royalty-free, sublicensable and transferable license to host, store, use, display, reproduce, modify, adapt, edit, publish and distribute” their pictures, videos, status updates, location check-in’s, professional background, political affiliations and relationship status.

If you must use social media, protect your data at source:

  1. WhatsApp limits the licence its users grant to the “purpose of operating and providing [its] Services”. Take the time to read the terms and conditions to ensure the applications or platforms you use do not require you to provide an extensive and irrevocable licence to your data.
  1. Limit the information you share to only that of what you are comfortable. Remember, information you post online is public (no matter how private it may feel to you).
  1. Facebook limits its licence so that it is “consistent with your privacy and application settings”. Ensure your privacy settings on all platforms are locked down as much as possible.
  1. Know your rights. The GDPR has forced companies to amend their terms and conditions so they are compatible with the GDPR. Amongst other things, you have a right to:
    1. Access the data companies hold on your behalf;
    2. for your data to be permanently erased; and
    3. to be informed about how your data is used.

If you would like to speak to a solicitor about anything mentioned above or if the above resonates at all with a situation you might find yourself in, contact Griffin Law today.