Viral Selfie App Meitu's Privacy Issues Alarm Security Experts

Jan 20, 2017 09:19 PM EST | Ed Saludes

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Chinese-made photo-editing app Meitu is suddenly popular among mobile device users. The social media universe is now populated with glamorous selfies which were made possible by the app. Meitu offers a hand-drawn mode that turns headshots into anime-like images. Well, almost.

However, the latest selfie craze is facing privacy issues including leaked Wi-fi and personal data. The iOS and Android app also share the location of mobile phones. These critical data are sent to servers in China, flagging several security experts including Greg Linares of AI security company Vectra.

According to Linares, the makeover app can gain access to device owners' time zone, local IP address, camera and photo library, and SIM card number. "This information can be used to track the individual's physical location, day-to-day behaviors, as well as starting the process of performing a cell clone," adds Linares.

The most popular camera apps are Instagram and Snapchat, which enjoy high rankings on Google Play and the App Store. Meitu has become an overnight hot sensation in the West after being a hit in Asia for years. It was only released in the U.S. and elsewhere in January.

The app has seven filters including Angelic, Blossoms, Fairy Tale, New Year, Metals, Mermaid, and Baroness. These filters can be used to retouch and enhance pictures. Some fanatics are using the app to degrade the rich and famous, including U.S. President Donald Trump.

The company that made Meitu quickly belies the privacy issues. A statement released by the company clarifies that the collected personal data are not sold. It also explains the app's purpose of optimizing app performance. It assures the public that the company's third-party and in-house data tracking systems ensures the consistency of user data tracking.

As of this writing, Meitu has 456 million active monthly users. The Chinese company reiterates that their users' data are housed on servers protected by multiple layer encryption and advanced firewall.

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