How can brands learn from FaceApp’s mistakes?

— Jarred Du Plessis 

I’m sure over the past few weeks, you noticed your personal social feeds filled with people going all granny and grandad on us, thanks to FaceApp and the #FaceAppChallenge. When I was younger, I’d always add a year or two when questioned about my age, but as I got older, I found myself shaving off a couple of years – so this trend came across as mildly bizarre to me. Why would you actively ‘oldify’ yourself when people typically want to look younger? The truth is the consumer industry is unpredictable.

FaceApp recently landed in hot water due to privacy concerns, creating an all-too familiar sense of distrust among consumers. The concerns were first raised when it was revealed that the company has origins in Russia. Given the 2016 US elections – when Russian nationals were alleged to have targeted the Democratic National Committee (DNC) – this caused the DNC to send a warning note to its entire ecosystem urging people to delete the app. After further investigation, it was revealed that FaceApp’s terms of service were highly vague regarding what it does with consumer data – which only served to stoke the sense of paranoia.

The app could’ve ensured this never happened in the first place by following a range of simple but effective best practice guidelines to help allay consumers’ privacy fears.


Strive for transparency

In the age of GDPR, clarity around data for brands is golden but this is where FaceApp struggled. A hard-to-read terms of service doesn’t ease consumers’ privacy concerns, yet that’s exactly what the app delivered. An excerpt on the data the app receives reads: “perpetual, irrevocable, non-exclusive, royalty-free, worldwide, fully-paid, transferable sub-licensable license.”

Following extensive allegations, the app responded stating that it only stores consumer data willingly submitted for 48 hours, deleting it thereafter – assuring that private information is not sold to external parties. However, people still need to pay more attention when it comes to how they opt-in. A brand’s transparency on privacy terms can ultimately protect it, should it ever come under question.

Adapt and React

Starting to own the conversation more than just react after the fact is key for FaceApp if it wants longevity. Developing strategies to turn brand distrust into brand love once again isn’t easy but it is something Huawei does well in my opinion. Huawei has been highly scrutinised for similar reasons and while it is still under investigation, it continues to dial up who it is – an innovative technology company that provides quality end-to-end solutions to businesses and consumers.

It has exhibited boldness by advertising its latest smartphone during one of the UK’s most popular shows, Love Island, which attracts an average of 4.2 million viewers. The brand continues to remain agile and adaptable and it will be interesting to see where Huawei is in the next 12 months. At the end of the day, if brands aren’t adaptable, they won’t achieve loyalty, build trust, or their sales pipeline for that matter.

Make your mark

If there’s one thing that earns consumers’ trust, it is brand identity. The #FaceAppChallenge made it tricky to associate the activity with a particular app and most people didn’t use the # or call out the brand in their posts. FaceApp’s tagline is: ‘Transform your face using Artificial Intelligence with just one tap’. While this is clear, it doesn’t have much consumer application.

Apple, Google and Amazon have had their fair share of privacy concerns, but they’ve also continued to be successful throughout because they have strong brands to stand by. An area where they’ve gained trust is through their simple and highly accessible catch phrases when it comes to their voice assistant offerings – ‘Siri’, ‘Alexa’ and ‘OK Google’. Each phrase has become a trusted voice in the vast majority of day-to-day consumer narratives, where it’s been estimated that there will be 8 billion digital voice assistants in use by 2023. FaceApp doesn’t need a voice assistant, but having a clearer brand identity, catch phrase or tagline will aid its visibility, awareness and conversion – getting people to have confidence in its brand and not a competitor’s.


A brand hits the jackpot when its customers drive the conversation themselves and trust it. Elevating this is the natural next step (with the user’s permission of course) where people are actively acting as your sales agents. If they love and trust you, they will tell their friends about you.

FaceApp has its work cut out, but it looks like the biggest privacy concern might not be the app at all but rather its nationality. FaceApp is a Russian start-up, but it uses American cloud services to store consumers’ photos. How would this narrative have changed if it was an American start-up using American cloud services?