Political and media hysteria over FaceApp is back, after the leader of the Democrats in the US Senate made public a letter from the FBI calling any Russian-developed software a “counterintelligence threat” to the US.
Senator Chuck Schumer (D-New York) shared the letter he received from Assistant Director Jill Tyson, in response to his July request to look into the potential dangers of FaceApp, a program rolled out in 2017 that went viral earlier this year as part of the ‘Age Challenge.’
A warning to share with your family & friends:
This year when millions were downloading #FaceApp, I asked the FBI if the app was safe.
Well, the FBI just responded.
And they told me any app or product developed in Russia like FaceApp is a potential counterintelligence threat. pic.twitter.com/ioMzpp2Xi5
— Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) December 2, 2019
The letter was dated November 25 – the day before the Thanksgiving holiday in the US – and contained no specific information about FaceApp. Instead, Tyson wrote that the FBI “considers any mobile application or similar product developed in Russia, such as FaceApp, to be a potential counterintelligence threat,” based on their data collection, privacy policies, and the ability of the Russian government to access data within the country’s borders.
Before anyone could point out that it took the FBI four months to produce what is essentially a canned non-response, or that such specious reasoning could mean the rest of the world could declare all programs designed by US-based companies as “CIA tools” or worse, Schumer went to the media beating the busted drum of “election meddling,” obviously.
“The FBI has to see what Russia might be doing with this information,” Schumer told the New York Daily News. “We should be worried about Russia’s tentacles getting deeper into American elections.”
Even after the two-year Mueller investigation produced zero evidence of “collusion” between President Donald Trump and the Kremlin during the 2016 election, Democrats and the media have continued arguing that the Russian “meddling” was an established fact, rather than an accusation cooked up by Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the US intelligence community to explain Trump’s shocking victory.
This paranoia has led to unprecedented censorship across social media platforms, but also calls to label foreign tech companies – such as China’s Huawei – as national security threats. Programs developed in Russia or China, such as TikTok, have also been subjected to US calls for boycott and censorship, with Schumer urging Americans to exercise “extreme caution when downloading apps developed in hostile foreign countries.”
Exactly how a FaceApp photo could be used to interfere in elections of any kind, Schumer did not say. Accusations of “Russian meddling” tend to be maddeningly vague as a general rule.
FaceApp was downloaded 6.5 million times over just 10 days in July, earning nearly $1 million in revenue. The St. Petersburg-based company has denied selling or sharing user data with any third parties – unlike the US social media giant Facebook, for instance – and noted no data was ever transferred to Russia. The FBI letter actually confirms this, saying that the FaceApp data is hosted on servers in the US, Singapore, Ireland and Australia.
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