The FaceApp controversy took on a feverish pitch over its Russian roots. I have Opinions.
At some point during the FaceApp alarm, someone pointed out the app was developed by Russians. A Red Scare ensued, which I found equal parts funny, frightening, and unfair. Journalists freaked out. US senators freaked out. One journalist incorrectly claimed I was “one of the developers who worked with the Russian firm,” which was picked up and regurgitated by other articles. I admit I freaked out a little when I saw everyone else freaking out.
So let me address a few things.
First, I absolutely did not in any way point out FaceApp’s Russian roots and I certainly didn’t state or imply that we should be scared because Russians. That’s absurd.
Second, I’m just some random guy who is a developer, yes, but was in no way involved with FaceApp’s creation or creators. I think what happened was the journalist saw “developer” and “app” and made some assumptions neither she nor her editor checked. Does that count as irony, considering the spotlight I’m currently heat-stroking under was started by my own unfounded assumption. I’m not saying I don’t deserve to squirm for that, but these are journalists. Supposed professionals whose job it is to research and report the truth. If you think about it, though, why would I work with a firm to build something to which I clearly strongly objected, then use it, then bitch about it on Twitter? Not only would that make me a dick, but would damage my chances of ever working with another firm on an app that sends any data anywhere. Critical thinking, it seems, doesn’t come naturally in the face of getting a scoop. At least the first such misstatement of my Russian associations has since been corrected (without a formal retraction, acknowledgement, or apology) and believe me, I’m pressuring anyone else I find perpetuating that fabrication to retract it.
Third, I like Russians. Full disclosure: I have “worked with” Russians during the course of my employment as a contractor for a US government contract. Said Russians were / are federal employees and contractors working to support Uncle Sam’s health research community. I disagree strongly with their country’s leadership, sure. Some Russians are awesome, good-hearted people and some are puerile assholes, same as in any society, yes. Overall, I like their outlook on life and on people who take themselves too seriously. I think it’s incredibly unfair (and more than a little backward) to assume the worst of a handful of developers just because they’re Russian. Sadly, blind bigotry seems to be growing in popularity here in the “good ol’ U-S-of-A”. That doesn’t mean I have to tolerate it and I sure as hell won’t let a careless journalist make it seem as though I’m perpetuating such an idiotic take on the whole FaceApp thing.
Fourth, I still think FaceApp is a bit fishy. Maybe these developers intend to scrape more info than they tell users and maybe they just did some of the things they did out of convenience (more on that in a moment). I don’t know, but whatever the truth is, I don’t blame it on their being Russian.
So still: be careful with apps like these. Nothing is free.