FaceApp just introduced “Asian,” “Black,” Caucasian,” and “Indian,” filters.
Yeah. We wish we were kidding. In a stunningly tone-deaf move, FaceApp introduced—then promptly removed—filters that let you “change” your race.
After going viral earler this year for using neural network technology to make photos of users look younger, older, more feminine, or more masculine, FaceApp added a new set of filters based on race.
The app, which also includes filters to add smiles or “beautify” one’s face, caused a storm of controversy with the new “ethnicity filters.” Some Twitter users even referred to the new filters as “digital blackface.”
Another Twitter user wrote, “FaceApp’s ‘ethnicity filters’ are a pretty terrible idea. Like, maybe one of the worst ideas.”
TechCrunch skewered the company’s cultural clumsiness, saying, “with four of the 10 filters available in the free version of the app being explicitly devoted to ‘changing’ ethnicities, FaceApp seems to be getting a little too focused on races rather than faces.”
Initially, FaceApp CEO Yaroslav Goncharov defended the new filters, saying, “The ethnicity change filters have been designed to be equal in all aspects. They don’t have any positive or negative connotations associated with them. They are even represented by the same icon. In addition to that, the list of those filters is shuffled for every photo, so each user sees them in a different order.”
Before the day was over, though, Goncharov reversed course and
This isn’t the first time an app’s photo filters have come under fire for racial insensitivity.
In April of last year, Snapchat released its “420 Bob Marley” filter, which—aside from giving users dreadlocks and a rasta cap—made users’ skin tone appear darker. The filter was widely derided by social media users as racist. Then company did it again last August, with their “anime-inspired” filter, which many critics said turned users into racist Asian caricatures.
Both filters were quickly removed following the online backlash.
This also isn’t the first time that one of
FaceApp’s filters received criticism.
In April of this year, the company added a filter called “hot,” (later renamed “Spark”) which was supposed to help users “become more attractive.” In reality, this feature lightened the skin colors of nonwhite users and altered facial appearances to look more European.
Following a backlash accusing the company of “whitewashing,” Goncharov told The Guardian, “We are deeply sorry for this unquestionably serious issue.” He goes on to say, “It is an unfortunate side-effect of the underlying neural network caused by the training set bias, not intended behavior.”
He also said that renaming the feature “spark” was an attempt to “exclude any positive connotation associated with it,” adding, “We are also working on the complete fix that should arrive soon.”
The “Hot”/”Spark” feature—like the rest of these controversial filters—was removed less than a month after it was introduced. Hopefully, the popular app doesn’t commit a similar faux pas in the future, regardless of their spotty track record.