You may have noticed cartoonised pictures of your friends or followers appearing on your social media feeds in recent weeks.
Tens of thousands of people have downloaded NewProfilePic, an app that enables you to upload a photo, choose a style, and in seconds have a life-like sketch resembling the work of an artist.
But concerns have now been raised about the app’s supposed Russian links, and whether users should think twice about handing over high-quality images of themselves to its owners.
Here’s what you need to know.
What is NewProfilePic?
NewProfilePic, launched the company PHO.TO, is a mobile phone picture editing application that can be downloaded from the App Store or Google Play.
It has surged up the charts of both stores, with hundreds of thousands downloading this month.
Users submit high-quality photos of their faces in return for avatars, produced by AI technology, which appear hand-drawn.
Social media users have been sharing these images online, with many adopting them as their profile pictures.
The app’s website states: “The world around us is fast-paced and always evolving. In this ever changing world, why stick to one profile pic on your social media? Let it be different, always new and… made by AI!
“The NewProfilePic app lets you change your user image style as often as you want.
“Dare to be different, with a profile pic that reflects your current mood or state of mind. Impress your friends on social media and keep them interested in what’s coming next!”
What concerns have been raised?
As is common with smartphone apps, downloading NewProfilePic enables it to collect personal information.
The company’s data policy states “we collect certain personal information that you voluntarily provide to us”.
It adds: “We collect your name, email address, user name, social network information and other information you provide when you register.”
If users consent, they can share their location, details about their device, and provide access to other photographs on their social media feeds.
Attention has been drawn to the app’s owner, Linerock Investments, which is registered in Moscow, according to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists Offshore Leaks data base.
Cybersecurity adviser Jake Moore told MailOnline: “This app is likely to be a way of capturing people’s faces in high resolution.
“I would question any app wanting this amount of data, especially one which is largely unheard of and based in another country.”
What does the company say?
A spokesperson for the company told i that PHO.TO has development and customer support offices in Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus, but the management are based outside of those countries.
All user photos are hosted and processed on the Amazon AWS and Microsoft Azure servers, they said, which are located outside of Russia.
They added: “The address on Moscow River is the address of lawyers who registered the company. We have never had an office there.
“It is true that the domain was registered to the Moscow address. It is the former Moscow address of the founder of the company.
“He does not live in the Russian Federation at the moment. By now the address has been changed in order to avoid any confusion.
“We understand that due to the current events in Ukraine, any connection to Russia could raise suspicions. That’s why we want to share the position on this issue on our founder’s Instagram.”
Four days before Russian launched its invasion of Ukraine, PHO.TO founder Victor Sazhin wrote on Instagram: “The war between Russia and Ukraine has been always unthinkable. And it should be again.
“Our team has development offices in Moscow and Kiev, Novosibirsk and Odessa.
“Our iOS team is mostly Russian. Our Android team – mostly Ukrainian.
“I personally was born in USSR in Moscow and moved to Krivyi Rih being two months old. Very literally my fatherland is Russia and my motherland is Ukraine.
“With Moscow being my home and Kryvyi Rih being a beloved city of my childhood, I never would imagine discussing a matter of war between our nations.”
The spokesperson added: “We did not and do not plan to have any affiliation with any governmental organisations of any country.”