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Screenshot of FaceApp on the Google Play store

A viral photo-filter app that lets people see older versions of themselves is highlighting concerns about handing personal information to overseas-developed apps, as well as any app that has vague privacy policies.

What's new: FaceApp, which has gone viral before, has re-emerged as the most popular iPhone app as people flock to post their digitally aged selves on social media. The app, owned by Russia's Wireless Lab, has risen to the top of Apple's App Store and #FaceAppChallenge has exploded on social media.

Why it matters: To date, most of the data regulation debate has focused on apps built by U.S. companies that use data to drive advertising dollars.

  • The recent surge of foreign app downloads is sparking a new conversation about the national and economic security implications when companies in other countries (and potentially their governments) might be able to access U.S. personal data through free, viral apps.

The bigger picture: FaceApp's renewed popularity has some worried that the Russian company behind it may be accessing millions of users' data with relatively little oversight.

  • The Democratic National Committee has warned staffers on 2020 candidates' campaigns not to use FaceApp.
  • Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer on Wednesday eveningcalled for the FBI and the Federal Trade Commission to investigate FaceApp's national security and privacy risks. He emphasized that the app is "owned by a Russia-based company."

Yes, but: Others are skeptical that there is much to be worried about.

  • Tests have shown the company is uploading only the images being aged, not entire photo libraries.
  • And the company told TechCrunch that while it does briefly store photos, it deletes them within 48 hours and also uses U.S.-based cloud services to handle the data. Read FaceApp's privacy policy here.
  • Colorado Gov. Jared Polis certainly didn't seem concerned, posting his own aged photo on Twitter, with the caption: "Well, I guess this is what 6 months being Governor does to you."

Between the lines: Other foreign-made apps have been surging in the U.S., thanks mostly to investments in advertising on Big Tech platforms, like Facebook or Google.

  • Shein, a major Chinese retailer, has experienced 2.5 million new installs in the U.S. in the past quarter alone, per Apptopia — its most ever from the country.
  • TikTok, the Bytedance-owned social karaoke app, is exploding in the U.S. and spent $1 billion on advertising in the U.S. in 2018.
  • Wish, the Chinese retailer that rivals Shein, is still the No. 1 shopping app in the U.S. for both the Apple App Store and Google Play store.

Be smart: While privacy is a major issue, U.S. experts are also concerned about the economic and national security consequences of foreign-made apps.

  • "Say there’s a sensitive U.S. military officer with a kid who's making memes on TikTok. Is it possible that there’s data being collected through that usage that could be useful to a Chinese intelligence service? Yeah, that’s possible. But we haven’t seen evidence of that yet," Graham Webster of New America told Axios' Erica Pandey.
  • From a competition perspective, there's the issue of Chinese apps being able to access marketing vehicles like Google and Facebook with paid advertising to drive app downloads in the U.S., while no such opportunity exists for U.S.-based apps in China.

Our thought bubble: "Foreign-made" is relative, of course, and for much of the world beyond U.S. borders, relying on apps from Google, Facebook or American startups raises similar concerns.

Go deeper

Scoop: Border officials project 13,000 child migrants in May

The "El Chaparral" border crossing at Tijuana. Photo: Stringer/Picture Alliance via Getty Images

A Customs and Border Protection staffer told top administration officials Thursday the agency is projecting a peak of 13,000 unaccompanied children crossing the border in May, sources directly familiar with the discussion told Axios.

Why it matters: That projection would exceed the height of the 2019 crisis, which led to the infamous "kids-in-cages" disaster. It also underscores a rapidly escalating crisis for the Biden administration.

6 hours ago - World

U.S. strikes Iran-backed militia facilities in Syria

President Biden at the Pentagon on Feb. 10. Photo: Alex Brandon - Pool/Getty Images

The United States on Thursday carried out an airstrike against facilities in Syria linked to an Iran-backed militia group, the Pentagon announced.

The state of play: The strike, approved by President Biden, comes "in response to recent attacks against American and Coalition personnel in Iraq, and to ongoing threats to those personnel," Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said in a statement.

Senate parliamentarian rules $15 minimum wage cannot be included in relief package

Photo: Al Drago/Getty Images

The Senate parliamentarian ruled Thursday that the provision to increase the minimum wage to $15/hour cannot be included in the broader $1.9 trillion COVID relief package.

Why it matters: It's now very likely that any increase in the minimum wage will need bipartisan support, as the provision cannot be passed with the simple Senate majority that Democrats are aiming to use for President Biden's rescue bill.