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3 Fast Facts about NewProfilePic's ties to Russia and data privacy

Some VERIFY viewers wondered if the photo editing app NewProfilePic has ties to Russia, and asked about its privacy policy. Here is what we found out.

In early May, NewProfilePic, an application that uses artificial intelligence technologies to stylize your social media profile picture, shot to the top of the charts on Google Play and the Apple App Store

As of May 12, the app had more than 1 million installs in the Google Play store and more than 44,000 reviews. On the Apple App Store, the app was rated #1 on the photo and video chart, with a 4.9 out of 5-star rating and more than 16,000 reviews.

Despite the app's popularity, recent claims online question the app's data collection, privacy policies and ties to Russia following a story from the British tabloid Daily Mail with the headline: “Russia after YOUR personal data? Experts warn internet users not to download latest online craze New Profile Pic that hoovers up your details.”

Several VERIFY viewers reached out to ask if the app is safe to use and what connections it has to Russia. 

THE SOURCES

WHAT WE CAN VERIFY:

1. NewProfilePic’s founder was born in Russia and the company has some offices in Russia 

An Instagram post dated Feb. 20 from NewProfilePic founder Victor Sazhin said he was born in Russia. The post, which addresses the war between Russia and Ukraine, provided background on his company’s connections to both countries.

“Our team has development offices in Moscow and Kiev [Ukraine], Novosibirsk [Russia] and Odessa [Ukraine]. Our iOS team is mostly Russian. Our Android team - mostly Ukrainian,” Sazhin’s post said. “I personally was born in USSR in Moscow and moved to Krivyi Rih [Ukraine] being two months old. Very literally my fatherland is Russia and my motherland is Ukraine.”

Kate Polezhaeva, a spokesperson for Linerock Investment LTD, which developed NewProfilePic, told VERIFY via email the company currently has development and customer support offices in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus.

“The top management of the company and the managers of the majority of the projects, including myself, are based out of these countries,” Polezhaeva said. “We did not and do not plan to have any affiliation with any governmental organisations of any country.”

A blog post from the app developers published May 11 touting the app’s success also confirms the office locations.

Polezhaeva told VERIFY Linerock Investment LTD was founded in Tortola, British Virgin Islands. According to the app store pages for NewProfilePic, the address associated with the app is a business center located in Tortola’s business district. 

VERIFY reached out to the British Virgin Islands Financial Services Commission but did not hear back at the time of publication.

Polezhaeva told VERIFY all user photos are hosted and processed on Amazon and Microsoft servers, which are based in the U.S. and are outside the Russian Federation. VERIFY reached out to Amazon and Microsoft to confirm but did not hear back at the time of publication.

2. The newprofilepic.com domain was originally registered in Russia, but now it’s registered in Florida

According to Polezhaeva, the domain name for www.newprofilepic.com, the website affiliated with the app, was originally registered by an attorney with Andersen Business Services, Inc., which has an office in Moscow. 

When searching WHOIS, a public database that houses information collected when someone registers for a domain name, archived results from May 11 said NewProfilePic.com was registered to a Moscow-based address. The archive had a timestamp of 08:07:36 that day. 

When VERIFY searched WHOIS later on May 11, the registered address for NewProfilePic.com was changed to Florida. The timestamp when VERIFY archived the page was 20:37:52. 

Credit: VERIFY/WHOIS

Polezhaeva confirmed the domain’s registered address was changed at some point on May 11.

“The domain registrant is not Linerock Investments Ltd, but its founder. And the Russian address in domain details was his former Russian address where he hasn't lived for a long time now. He updated it yesterday after seeing its part in the Daily Mail post,” she said in the email.

3. NewProfilePic’s data privacy policy isn’t particularly unique

NewProfilePic does not store users’ accounts or any personal information, Polezhaeva told VERIFY.  According to Linerock’s privacy policy, the company only collects personal information that is voluntarily provided. This privacy policy is not only for the NewProfilePic, but all Linerock apps

From the privacy policy: “For example, we collect your name, email address, user name, social network information and other information you provide when you register, set up an account, contact us by e-mail or use our services.”

“If you connect your Facebook, Apple ID, or other third-party accounts to one of our apps, we use information from those accounts (like your username or profile picture). You can choose to stop sharing this information with us at any time by going to Facebook or other third-party accounts and removing our access,” the policy says. 

A person can also change the settings on their Android or Apple phones and choose what the app is or isn’t allowed to track. Here are guides from Apple and Android on how to control privacy settings on your device.

Credit: VERIFY

To better understand how Linerock’s privacy policy compares to other applications, VERIFY analyzed the privacy policies for other popular applications. 

In each of these examples, including NewProfilePic, the privacy policies state information could be collected from other third-party, or outside and unaffiliated, applications and shared with those third-party applications. But, express permission is required.

Picsart is not a Linerock app but is comparable to other photo and video editing apps like NewProfilePic. The app has more than 150 million users, according to the Google and Apple app stores.

According to Picsart’s privacy policy, if the user grants permission, private information like their name, email address and demographic information can be shared. A person’s contact list could be accessed and the app could collect visual information through the images that you upload, including your profile photos.

TikTok’s privacy policy also says certain data is collected when registering to use the platform. Facebook’s privacy policy is similar.

Jake Moore, a cybersecurity advisor with European cybersecurity company ESET, told VERIFY via email that people should be mindful of what permissions they give to new applications. 

Moore told VERIFY: “People have formed trust over many years with the likes of Facebook and Instagram but when a new app goes viral, it is advised to minimize the amount of data shared where possible and reduce the number of permissions granted. We need to be mindful of how much data we share with companies as our privacy is extremely important.”

The VERIFY team works to separate fact from fiction so that you can understand what is true and false. Please consider subscribing to our daily newsletter, text alerts and our YouTube channel. You can also follow us on Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and TikTok. Learn More »

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