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The Two Faces Of Photo Editing Apps: A User’s Perspective
Smartphone digitization has changed how we capture photos, view, and store them. Gone are the days when printing photos and saving physical albums were a thing. Moreover, there are hundreds of photo editing apps on the Google Play Store and Apple App Store that can edit, modify, and 'beautify' photos. However, will this have any ill affect on your photos?
We've all used photo editing apps, whether to apply filters, switch to beauty mode or simply enjoy the features on the app (Face App, for instance). Like all apps on the Play Store, some of the photo editing apps pose some serious problems for the user.
How Dangerous Are Photo Editing Apps?
Firstly, there are two types of photo editing app: Device-based apps and Server-based/ Cloud-based apps. The device-based apps function on the smartphone and work sans the internet, which is the opposite of the cloud-based ones. The device-based apps generally have a set of programs like photo edits and filters pre-loaded, which are applied to the user's photos.
The device-based photo apps can further be classified into freemium and premium ones. Freemium, as it suggests comes free of cost and can easily be downloaded from the Play Store. However, it is generally loaded with ads, which might affect the user experience. Moreover, the ads are target-based, which implies the collection of user data. A good example is the PicsArt app, which has over 500 million downloads on Android alone.
Premium device-based apps, on the other hand, are the ones where users need to pay an amount up-front to download it. These apps are more developer-friendly and generally don't pack ads. However, the Indian audience is still skeptical to pay for apps and refrain from downloading them. Often, we see a premium version on a freemium app, where paying opens up additional features or could make it ad-free.
The biggest advantage of using device-based apps is that all the data is stored locally, giving the user more control and minimizing the risk of data misuse. At the same time, the performance of these apps depends on the device's performance. Oft times, users see a lag in app loading if the device is slow. Adobe Lightroom and Adobe Photoshop Express are some popular device-centric photo apps.
Cloud-Based Photo Apps: Good Or Bad?
Then come the cloud-based or server-based photo editing apps. These type of apps require an internet connection and apply AI and machine learning technology. Take for instance Prisma, an app that branded itself to turn photos into art. Prisma, like other cloud-based apps, applied AI and machine learning for editing.
The cloud-based photo apps require users to upload their photos, which is then be sent to the server/cloud computers, which sends back the resultant image with the edits/filters, etc. The best part - it happens within millisecond. However, the user is completely unaware that his photo is being edited in the cloud.
Privacy is a risky factor with some cloud-based apps. Most often, users don't read the terms and conditions while downloading the app. Some terms note that the "photos could be used by the app developer/company for app improvements". Even if the photos are deleted locally, it would still be stored in the servers.
Generally, developers use the data to optimize the app and enhance the UI. However, once the data goes online, it stays online. Which means it could be accessible and might even be misused. We're all aware of the Cambridge Analytica scandal that used data from Facebook for targeting ads.
Deepfakes Are Deep Risks
Deepfakes, that's another feature to be wary of. Original and deepfake videos/photos hardly have much difference and are often misused by bad elements. Snapchat and ByteDance (which owns TikTok) have deepfake filters, easily available to users. Moreover, such apps might also acquire sensitive information like biometrics.
Worse, dangerous apps like Deep Nude pose an even more serious risk factor. Deep Nude was a photo editing app that removed clothes from the images. Such deepfake apps don't even require high computing devices and could be downloaded for free. Deep Nude is now removed from the internet, including the dark web.
The Risk Factor
Photo apps, like a few other apps, keep running in the background and the users are completely unaware of it. Moreover, smartphone users (on both iOS and Android) can't check the background processing of the system. Ill-intended developers might launch fake apps that look just like the real one on the Play Store. Believing the app is for free, users download it and that's where the trouble starts brewing.
Sideloading photo apps continue collecting data in the background, which could be harmful. Speaking from a girl's perspective, the photos can be manipulated and misused. With sideloading apps, photos or data which wasn't meant to be shared/uploaded can still be traced, misused.
Moreover, some of the photos uploaded on these apps might also contain other information like a home's interiors. Unawares, a user might share their personal information like a phone number or email while uploading photos, which can further be abused.
What Can You Do?
Photo editing apps are widely popular and could be impossible to quit using. Users are advised to read the terms and conditions of the app carefully before downloading. They are also advised to keep track of their data and verify if it's safe.
Also, it's advised to ensure that the photos upload don't have personal and sensitive information. As mentioned, data that goes on the internet stays on the internet.