Everything we know about the company behind FaceApp, the viral photo app that’s come under scrutiny for keeping your data

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Ben Gilbert/Business Insider/FaceApp

  • FaceApp, the viral photo-editing app that can make you look old or swap your gender using artificial intelligence, saw a resurgence in popularity this week.
  • But many were quick to take issue with the Russian company’s vague terms of use, which quickly resulted in privacy concerns.
  • Here’s a look at everything we know about the company behind the app.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Whenever we share personal data or photos with an app, there’s always the question of how much privacy we’re sacrificing by sharing information with third parties in exchange for compelling services or features. Such concerns surged this week as interest around FaceApp, the viral app that uses artificial intelligence to apply realistic filters and effects to photos, once again flared up two years after its 2017 debut.

FaceApp experienced a resurgence in popularity this week as social-media feeds were flooded with selfies from celebrities and others using the app’s old-age filter. But the Russia-based company’s unclear terms of use, which indicate the firm retains the right to use photos and content uploaded to the app, quickly sparked privacy concerns.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer wrote a letter urging the FBI and the Federal Trade Commission to investigate the app, which he said “could pose a national security risk,” given that the app is headquartered in Russia, and it’s unclear how data about American citizens is being shared with third parties or foreign governments. The Democratic National Committee also warned 2020 presidential campaigns not to use the app, CNN reported on Wednesday.

Yaroslav Goncharov, the creator of the app, has since sent statements to The Washington Post and TechCrunch in response to some of these concerns. He said the firm uploads only photos that the user chooses and that despite the vague terms of service, FaceApp isn’t using the images it gathers for anything other than the express purposes of the app, The Washington Post reported.

Little information about FaceApp’s creator is available, but here’s a look at what we do know.


FaceApp is run by a company called Wireless Lab OOO, according to the app’s terms of service.

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FaceApp

The company is headquartered in St. Petersburg, Russia, but it’s also incorporated in the US in Delaware, The Washington Post reported. FaceApp said user data is not transferred to Russia in statements to The Washington Post and TechCrunch.

The company’s servers are mostly based in the US, according to Forbes, which said it viewed hosting records. Other areas of the world where FaceApp’s servers are hosted include Ireland and Singapore. But FaceApp employees in Russia still likely have access to the data, even though it’s not hosted there, the report said.

FaceApp removes most photos from its servers after 48 hours, reports from Forbes, The Washington Post, and TechCrunch cited Goncharov and FaceApp as saying.


The app was created in 2014, although it didn’t launch until 2017.

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FaceApp

Goncharov’s LinkedIn profile lists him as the CEO of FaceApp since 2014. But the app didn’t launch until 2017, when it quickly became popular for its filters that can alter the subject of a photo’s age or gender.


Before launching FaceApp, Goncharov worked for companies such as Yandex and Microsoft.

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Reuters

The FaceApp CEO has an extensive history of working for major tech firms, including the Russian internet-search company Yandex, where he was the head of the company’s mobile-platform department from 2011 through 2013.

Before that, he worked for the mobile-software company SPB Software, which made a popular home-screen replacement for Android devices called SPB Shell 3D. Goncharov worked as a technical lead for Microsoft before that.

A couple of other FaceApp employees appear to have similar backgrounds, having come from companies such as Yandex, SPB Software, the Russian social-media platform VKontakte, according to LinkedIn.


FaceApp reportedly moved to the Skolkovo Innovation Center, which is run by the Russian government, in 2018, although the firm said it was not affiliated with the venture in any way.

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Balcony of the Skolkovo Hypercube at the Skolkovo Innovation Center on the outskirts of Moscow.
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Thomson Reuters

Forensic News reported on Wednesday that FaceApp had moved its offices to the Skolkovo Innovation Center, a tech hub west of Moscow that’s come to be known as Russia’s Silicon Valley. But Goncharov said in a statement to Mashable that it has not received any support from Skolkovo.

His full statement reads as follows:

“No, we are not associated or affiliated with Skolkovo Ventures in any way. Skolkovo is a business park with a lot of different companies. We have not received any funding from any funds associated with any governments.”


The app has become massively popular despite privacy concerns.

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FaceApp

FaceApp is the No. 1 free app in both Apple’s iOS App Store and the Google Play store. It has more than 80 million users from all over the world.