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That Viral 'FaceApp' Is Making Everyone Look Whiter

People are accusing the popular photo app of racism for whitewashing their faces.
Twitter/Terrance AB Johnson

It happened—a tech company did a bad thing again. This time, it's the super popular face-morphing app called, wait for it…FaceApp.

For some reason unknown to me, FaceApp went gangbusters this week after launching in late January. Its offerings are fairly simple, but allegedly technologically impressive.

The Russian-based app "uses neural networks to modify a face on any photo while keeping it photorealistic. For example, it can add a smile, change gender and age, or just make you more attractive," its CEO and founder Yaroslav Goncharov told TechCrunch. Wow, cool.


Only, according to some purported FaceApp users, the beautification process apparently involves lightening your skin tone, and making your features more European-looking. Uhhhh.

Users have been sharing evidence on Twitter of what happens when people of color select FaceApp's "Hot" filter. In many cases, the app more or less re-skins their faces.

"Why is the option to make yourself look 'hot' actually a filter to change your skin tone," wrote one App Store reviewer who gave FaceApp one star. "Is this to say that black people aren't 'hot'???"

"I'm African-American and this app was not very good for me. 4/5 of the options was just a white person's face poster over my own and it didn't blend together very well," wrote another.

It seems the company caught on and recently renamed its "Hot" filter to "Spark." The new feature still visibly lightens your skin.

"We are deeply sorry for this unquestionably serious issue. It is an unfortunate side-effect of the underlying neural network caused by the training set bias, not intended behavior. To mitigate the issue, we have renamed the effect to exclude any positive connotation associated with it. We are also working on the complete fix that should arrive soon," Goncharov told me in an email.

Other photo apps have fucked up, too. Last year, Snapchat debuted an "anime" filter that was grossly similar to the yellowface caricature of Asians. And its 4/20 Bob Marley filter caused many to accuse Snapchat of promoting blackface.

Will this be the last time a tech company is inexcusably unaware of its own whiteness? Almost certainly not. Until next time…

This story has been updated to include a comment from FaceApp.