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.
- Kate Polezhaeva, spokesperson for Linerock Investments LTD
- Linerock Investments LTD on the Apple and Google app stores
- Victor Sazhin, founder of the NewProfilePic app
- Jake Moore, a cybersecurity advisor with ESET
- WHOIS domain registry search and archives
- Privacy policies for Linerock Investment LTD apps, Picsart, TikTok and Facebook
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.”