The Federal Bureau of Investigation considers any mobile app developed in Russia, such as FaceApp, “to be a potential counterintelligence threat”. This is given the data that FaceApp collects, its privacy and terms of use, and the legal mechanisms available to the Russian government that “permit access to data within Russia’s borders”.

The FBI said this in response to US Senator Chuck Schumer’s July letter to the FBI and FTC about FaceApp that highlighted privacy concerns and fears that FaceApp data could be shared with the Russian government. The Democratic National Committee had even sent an alert to presidential campaigns warning them not to use the app in case the company is sharing data.

Russia’s intelligence services maintain “robust cyber exploitation capabilities”, the FBI said, as shown by the country’s surveillance system, within which the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) can obtain telephonic and online communications via direct connection to ISPs. Russian intelligence is able to “remotely access all communication and servers on Russian networks without making a request to ISPs”, the FBI stated.

FaceApp applies filters to users’ photos and went viral in 2017, and again in July 2019 because of a filter that makes users look older (or younger). At the time, users were surprised to learn that the app was harvesting metadata from their photos. The app was launched in 2017, and is developed by Wireless Lab, a company based in St Petersburg.

FaceApp has denied selling or sharing user data with third parties, according to Reuters. FaceApp has also said that user data is never transferred to Russia and most images are deleted from its servers within 48 hours of submission, per the report.