FaceApp is a filter-based morphing app that has gone viral in the last weeks. It allows users put a smile on their faces, look older, younger, swap genders, and make yourself “hotter.” The problem with the last one is that it has a skin whitening effect. Users couldn’t help but find that pretty racist.
— Terrance AB Johnson (@tweeterrance) April 19, 2017
The Russian app was launched in January, but met success in the past weeks, jumping to the top of the charts in the iOS and Android app stores. In an interview with TechCrunch, CEO and founder Yaroslav Goncharov said that one of the filters is intended to make yourself “more attractive.” No one could imagine that in 2017, that would mean bleaching your skin, enlarge your eyes, and even remove your glasses.
Uhhhhh is the 💥 filter supposed to turn you into a mediocre white guy? pic.twitter.com/a3Lvy7zkXD
— Kevin Nguyen (@knguyen) April 25, 2017
After users began complaining, Goncharov addressed an apology. “We are deeply sorry for this unquestionably serious issue,” he said in a statement. “It is an unfortunate side-effect of the underlying neural network caused by the training set bias, not intended behavior.”
The company has now changed the name of the filter to “spark”, to “exclude any positive connotation associated with it,” while they work on a better solution.
It’s not the first time an app is branded as racist for its AR lenses
Smartphone apps have been developing augmented reality technologies to bring it to the masses for a while now. Think of Pokemon Go, or better yet, Snapchat and its famous filters, based on deep learning machines.
Snapchat has brought you many different lenses, from a dog mask sticking its tongue out, or the flower crown that makes you gorgeous, to a horrific demon. But last year, the hugely successful app came under fire for its 4/20 filter.
Apparently, during a brainstorming meeting, someone came with the idea of honoring the unofficial holiday that celebrates marijuana with a filter that would merge the user’s face with Bob Marley’s face. And everyone else thought that the idea was great. Fifteen years of making music and defying the system with his political and spiritual views, reduced to weed. Great. Really.
Oh my god oh my god oh my god snapchat put a “Bob Marley” filter and it’s… bad and in poor taste, to say the least pic.twitter.com/syAHGXp3f6
— Alp Ozcelik (@alplicable) April 20, 2016
Described as a “digital blackface”, the filter caused a lot of controversy among Snapchat users that didn’t enjoy so much the stereotype of brown skin, dreadlocks and a Rasta hat to talk about weed.
Another controversy came months later after the app launched an “anime-inspired lens”. It was not well received since it turned you into a cartoon with squinty eyes, called by some “insensitive”, and by others “the most overly racist filter ever.”