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Lensa AI Selfies: What to Know About the Photo-Editing App Your Friends Are Using

This app is the latest social media craze, but it doesn't come without privacy concerns.

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Lensa AI avatar image of CNET's Dan Avery.
Lensa

You've likely seen the new filter your friends have been using on social media that transforms their photos into artwork. It's called Lensa AI, and the viral photo-editing app takes your uploaded photos and creates "magic avatars" using your face. However, the photo editor doesn't come without privacy concerns. We'll explain below.

Lensa AI is free to download on your phone, but you'll have to pay $4 to upload up to 20 photos for editing. You'll then receive 50 avatar images based on the photos you submitted.

We'll explain what you need to know about the Lensa AI photo-editing app. For a look at a similar image service, read about the NewProfilePic photo editor.

What is Lensa AI?

Lensa is a photo-editing app available on iPhone and Android with a feature that takes your uploaded selfies and turns them into avatars. The app can also be used to edit your photos, from skin retouching to blurring backgrounds, and can be used to edit videos.

The service isn't free to use, but the app has quickly topped the charts in the iPhone App Store's Photo & Video section. A monthly subscription will run you $8, and an annual subscription costs $30.

Who created Lensa?

Lensa isn't new. Actually, it's been around since 2018 and was created by Prisma Labs, which also has a self-named photo-editing app. Based in California, Prisma Labs was founded in 2016 by Alexey Moiseenkov and a team of Russian developers, including Andrey Usoltsev, Oleg Poyaganov and Ilya Frolov. 

When Moiseenkov resigned as CEO of Prisma Labs and left the company in 2018, Usoltsev took the lead and became the CEO, a Prisma Labs representative told CNET.

Soon after launch, Prisma became one of the most downloaded apps in the world and won the App of the Year award from both the iOS App Store and Google Play.

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Lensa

What are the concerns with using Lensa?

Since the app recently gained popularity, privacy concerns have surfaced -- specifically, about how user data is being used. For instance, Lensa can use your uploaded photos to train its AI.

The Lensa privacy policy says it doesn't use your uploaded photos for anything other than to apply filters and effects to them. However, it adds a slew of ways it may use your information (other than photos and videos), including the following:

  • To train its neural network algorithms.
  • To provide, improve, test and monitor the effectiveness of Lensa.
  • To provide personalized content and information to you in relation to Lensa.
  • To diagnose or fix technology problems in relation to Lensa.

See the full list here.

There's also the app's terms of use, which states that when you download the app and upload your photos, you're granting Lensa a "perpetual, irrevocable, nonexclusive, royalty-free, worldwide, fully-paid, transferable, sub-licensable license to use, reproduce, modify, distribute, create derivative works of your User Content, without any additional compensation to you and always subject to your additional explicit consent for such use where required by applicable law."

What Prisma says happens to your avatars

The Prisma Labs representative told CNET the following: "After the batch of Avatars is created, the shared photos are deleted permanently from our servers, as well as the copy of an individually trained model. Each time a user purchases a new pack of Avatars, the process repeats from scratch; that's why we ask you to upload photos every time you request a new package."

What to do if you've already used the app

If you've recently submitted your photos to the app and are now concerned with how your data is being used, you can take action. You can send an email to privacy@lensa-ai.com and request that your personal data be deleted. If your photos are being used in advertising, send an email to contact@lensa-ai.com to remove those permissions. 

However, the Lensa privacy policy adds that it may reach out to you to better understand your request "in case of a vague access, erasure, objection request or any other request in exercise of the mentioned rights." And if this isn't possible, it notes that it reserves the right to "refuse granting your request."

Any approved requests could take up to 90 days to process.

If you decide to use the app, we recommend carefully reading the terms and conditions, as well as the privacy policy, to know what you're getting into. 

For more, here are seven privacy tips security experts wish you knew.