Open up your favorite social media app and scroll through your list of followers. You might notice a few new avatars among the standard selfies, ranging from big-eyed anime-style portraits to fairy princesses and impressionistic paintings.
These portraits may be stunning, but where do they come from?
Your friends haven't suddenly started commissioning working artists. Instead, they've downloaded the Lensa AI app. Lensa uses artificial intelligence to turn their favorite selfies into "magic avatars."
While this social media trend may generate eye-catching results, your privacy and artists' intellectual property may be at risk.
What is Lensa AI doing with your data, and are a handful of uncanny Lensa avatars worth the risk?
We've created this Lensa AI guide to help you decide whether it's wise to feed your selfies to a database and how this technology may hurt artists in the long run. Read on to learn the pros and cons of using avatar makers.
What Is the Lensa Magic Avatar Creator?
At first glance, the Lensa AI app seems like any other photo manipulation app. It's loaded with tempting in-app purchases and suspicious subscription plans. Before you can access the magic avatar feature, the app pressures you to shell out $29.99 for a subscription plan.
If you can find the magic avatar feature, you upload between ten and twenty selfies. Before proceeding, you must pay a fee based on the number of avatars you'd like the app to generate. Most consumers pay a one-time fee of $11.99 for a collection of 100 AI-generated images.
It takes about forty minutes for Lensa to generate your avatars. Once they're ready, you can browse by category and save your favorites directly to your phone. While many images might look like you, expect quite a few creepy interpretations with warped facial features or too many fingers.
The process quickly becomes addictive. Users feed in more photos and pay another fee, hoping that more of the images in their set are social media-worthy.
Selfies and Safety: The Privacy Problem
At first glance, the Lensa app seems relatively harmless. Representatives from Lensa claim it deletes user photos from all databases within 24 hours. Not all apps that gather facial data are operating above board, however.
Lensa and the Law
Image-based apps like Lensa teach consumers that uploading dozens of selfies into databases is safe. Not all of these apps have data-friendly terms of service, however. Companies can sell your facial data, and governments or organizations might use it for facial recognition, profiling, or other nefarious means.
Such is the case with programs like Clearview AI, which pulls images from social media apps. Law enforcement agencies use the app to locate suspects based on their photos.
The issue is that contemporary AI apps notoriously struggle to read or generate accurate images of members of minority racial groups. These individuals happen to be the most likely to be profiled. As long as facial recognition AI has these growing pains, AI model technology can be dangerous in the wrong hands, leading to wrongful convictions, false imprisonment, or worse.
Databases and Consent
Furthermore, this facial data can also end up in databases, which use a generative adversarial network (or GAN) to generate real-looking images of people. Imagine your face ending up in a nude or hypersexualized photo without your consent. While these apps "aren't for children," many minors fall prey to viral trends and feed the apps their selfies without a second thought.
Explicitly or not, you're paying a company to collect your data for use in any subsequent facial recognition database. If you don't read the agreements carefully, apps can use your likeness without your consent.
Monetizing Your Behavior
Users should understand how such apps collect behavior analytics. Remember how the Lensa app attempted to get you to subscribe immediately even though a subscription wasn't necessary? Every tap and swipe teaches these apps how to prey on consumers more effectively.
Furthermore, you could share other data associated with your photos without realizing it. Did you know many images come withlocation tags? Check your phone's privacy settings to ensure you're not feeding these apps sensitive personal data.
Your Magic Avatar Isn't Really Magic
What happens during the forty minutes between uploading your selfies and the app spitting out unique avatars in your likeness? There isn't a tiny artist in your phone painting your portrait. Instead, the app is accessing a database of extant artwork from across the internet, often without the artist's consent.
Some users have noticed the presence of blurred artists' signatures on AI images, proving that art originated with a real live human. While this app might not immediately harm individual artists, the AI art trend can damage the profession over time.
Think about the field of translation. With AI translation services like Google Translate, the value of a human translator's labor has decreased over time. Now companies hire these professionals to "correct" poor AI translations at lower rates, which is equally time-consuming.
Many artists fear they're next—most cannot provide clients with 50-100 unique images in their likeness for only $11.99. This is incredibly unfair, as its artist's work is being used to train the AI to generate the magic avatars.
Unfortunately, most consumers won't pay an artist a fair wage for a single, high-quality portrait when they can generate fifty decent ones for the cost of a latte.
In essence, magic avatars and other AI-generated art are impossible without flesh-and-blood artists. Ironically, their own labor might be the thing that puts them out of a job as AI technology improves.
Lensa AI: Where Do You Stand?
Lensa AI is not new technology, and the app itself may not cause you any direct harm. Even so, it has scary implications for the future of intellectual property, facial recognition databases, and data privacy. If you want to shell out money for a few magic avatars, we won't stop you; but we implore you to consider your phone's settings and delete the app when you're done.
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