CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The West Virginia Secretary of State's Office is issuing an urgent public notice for citizens to be cautious when using photo editing applications in which artificial intelligence is used to alter photographs.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office is issuing an urgent public notice for citizens to be cautious when using photo editing applications in which artificial intelligence is used to alter photographs. 

These applications are popularly shared on social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and have raised privacy and security concerns in recent days.

 An application known as FaceApp, developed by a Russian programmer which uses artificial intelligence to alter a user’s photograph to make them look older, has become extremely popular lately.  The app generates concern because it requires users to allow the developer access to their photo libraries, giving the application and its owners rights to use the photos for whichever purpose they choose.

Russia has been known for its high-profile disinformation campaigns, which often use unsuspecting people’s photographs to spread false information. Thursday morning, Forbes reported that FaceApp now owns access to more than 150 million people’s photographs, which include faces and names.  Unsuspecting social media users may unknowingly grant applications like FaceApp royalty-free access to every photo in their phone’s library. (Forbes: https://www.forbes.com/sites/johnkoetsier/2019/07/17/viral-app-faceapp-now-owns-access-to-more-than-150-million-peoples-faces-and-names/#2f7e21e062f1).

These types of seemingly harmless and fun applications bring great concern to Secretary Warner and other security officials.  Warner has spent the past two years working with various agencies to combat foreign influence in American elections, and his work has made West Virginia a leader in U.S. efforts to make America aware of the Russian – and other bad actors’ – threat. 

Warner cites the Mueller Report which revealed Russia sent military operatives inside the United States, and those operatives spent millions of dollars on misleading and untruthful social media posts to sow discord among our citizens. One can only imagine the nefarious ways Russian operatives might misuse photos of unsuspecting Americans in the years to come. For this reason, Secretary Warner urges all citizens to avoid these apps, or at least recognize the potential for misuse down the road.

Secretary Warner recently released a set of videos and PowerPoint presentations on foreign influence in the elections which can be viewed by the public.  The presentations are also meant to be used by schools and organizations as program material.  West Virginia’s leading role was recently reported by CNN (https://www.cnn.com/2019/07/11/politics/states-election-disinformation-education/index.html?fbclid=IwAR1M1T9d1EZmOxrumE3V9oFub_WG82Ce93UYvRr5SpMgS2BHIONdtSNZY9A).

Secretary Warner has presented this effort at two national conferences recently for the National Association of Secretaries of State and the National State Election Directors.  More information and resources developed by the WV Secretary of State’s Office can be found at https://sos.wv.gov/news/Pages/06-26-2019-A.aspx.