FaceApp is an AI-powered mobile app which allows users to apply a number of transformative filters to uploaded pictures. Want to know what you’d look like as a member of the opposite sex? Aged by 40 years? ‘Hotter’? Or even – for a limited amount of time before it became clear how terrible an idea it was – as a different ethnicity?
Yes, that last idea was perhaps poorly thought out, and understandably generated a good deal of controversy for the Russia-based app, developed by Wireless Lab. As did the fact that the ‘hot’ filter tended to give black users white features, including the not-so-subtle skin lightening…
This was not to be the last controversy faced by FaceApp. The app, which had seen a quieter period after an initial post-launch surge, was suddenly all over social media after a new ‘old’ filter took FaceApp to new heights of virality in July 2019.
Virality, of course, comes with scrutiny. Media attention was drawn (not for the first time) to a clause in the user agreement that indicated that users were giving the app access to all of their photos, as well as search data. Predictably this caused a media storm. It remains to be seen whether the app’s reputation can recover (and how damaged it really is in the first place).
There have been protestations from the FaceApp camp that this is a generic agreement and nothing untoward has occurred. Nonetheless, with Cambridge Analytica and ‘collusion’ still relatively fresh in the memory, some users are understandably wary.
FaceApp founder Yaroslav Goncharov got his early experience working with Microsoft. He later was a partner on St Petersburg-based SPB Software, which was acquired by Yandex in 2011 for $38 million.
During his time working for these companies he became interested in neural networks – particularly their ability to generate a face from a set of given attributes. He was held back from exploring this idea by tech limitations.
Eventually, the technology caught up with his ambitions, and FaceApp was launched, with the AI able to generate impressively realistic images. The app was an instant success, going viral while still in its beta incarnation. As the popularity off the ‘old’ filter has shown us, there’s certainly legs in the idea yet – so long as its AI keeps it ahead of the pack.
There have been offers of VC money, Goncharov says, though at present, he remains the sole owner, employing a team of 12 people.
What do we know about FaceApp? The stats on hand are relatively limited, with Goncharov playing his cards close to his chest. We’ve tried to gather all the available stats below, including app store ranks, download figures, and some estimates of FaceApp revenue. Read on to find out more.
Table of Contents
Key FaceApp Statistics
- 150 million lifetime FaceApp downloads as of July 2019
- 100 million Android FaceApp downloads as of July 2019
- 86 million FaceApp users have uploaded pictures to the app
- 12.7 million new FaceApp users downloaded the app in a single week in July 2019, according to Sensor Tower
- By the end of the month, Sensor Tower reported 63 million downloads over the entirety of July, 14 million on iOS and 49 million on Android
- Priori data reported 29.6 million between July 1 and July 21, 20.9 million Android to 8.7 iOS downloads (those last 10 days may well have made up the difference)
- Pre-July 2019, the record number of monthly FaceApp downloads stood at 16.6 million; 12.1 million Android and 4.5 million iOS (May 2017)
- In the US, 122,000 FaceApp downloads made June 18-July 12 2019, compared to 1 million between July 13-July 17
- FaceApp ranked outside the top-1,000 US iOS App Store apps at the beginning of July 2019; was the number one app July 14-22; and dropped to 133 by August 5
- It similarly came from an unranked position to top Google Play US ranking July 17-July 23
- FaceApp reached a peak position of 256 in SimilarWeb’s overall Android usage rank (predicated more on active usage than downloads), and seventh in photography, during its July viral phase
FaceApp User Statistics
Since its release on Android February 2017 FaceApp has been downloaded at least 100 million times on Google Play alone. It was released one month prior on iOS, on which it was downloaded one million times in the first two weeks.
The total number of downloads was widely reported at 150 million as of mid-July 2019, though no source is given for this number seemingly beyond its featuring in a Forbes headline. This does, however, check out with the 100 million Google Play downloads, with estimated tending to peg the ratio of Google Play downloads to iOS at around 2:1.
As of July 2019, at least 80 million FaceApp users had uploaded pictures to the app (some sources estimate 86 million). Usage has been punctuated by periods of virality, tied to certain functionality. July 2019 is by far the most extreme example of this. The app was reportedly downloaded by 12.7 million first-time users over a single week as the trend took hold, with an ‘old’ filter catching the imagination.
The below graphic shows how this fits in with historical FaceApp download trends. The previous peak of FaceApp download activity occurred in May 2017, in which the app was downloaded over 16 million times.
Bar a couple of little spikes over the years, download volume remained pretty low over the next couple of years – until we got to July 2019. The dataset used below ends on July 21 – at which point the record had nearly been doubled. Of the 29.6 million FaceApp downloads reported at this stage (at which the viral phase still had some steam in it), 20.9 million were Google Play, and 8.7 million iOS.
FaceApp monthly download volume, launch-July 2019
The viral FaceApp sensation of July 2019 saw celebrities and everyone you know on social media posting up images of what they might look like some decades in the future.
Sensor Tower estimates exceed even the Priori Data FaceApp stats above. The app was downloaded 63 million times over July 2019 according to this reckoning; 14 million times on iOS, and 49 million times on Android. We might note that the Sensor Tower FaceApp stats go to the end of the month. With the peak viral phase continuing well past the 21st, a generous extrapolation could marry up these two sets of stats.
FaceApp US download stats
We saw nearly a million US FaceApp downloads in a five-day period from July 13 to July 17 (inclusive), according to Appfigures. Contrast this with the 122,000 downloads recorded in the 25 days between June 18 and July 12.
Interestingly iOS App Store downloads seem to vastly eclipse those made through Google Play in this analysis (something which seems to be contradicted by the SimilarWeb and Sensor Tower FaceApp stats referenced above). In the aforementioned five-day period, iOS FaceApp downloads totalled 854,000.
While Appfigure’s Google Play FaceApp download figures are much smaller, we still saw 54,000 downloads over the preceding 25 day period matched and then doubled by the 119,000 downloads in the five-day peak download period assessed here.
FaceApp US downloads, Jun-July 2019
Sensor Tower FaceApp data shows an even higher peak in user numbers in new users (iOS and Android). According to these figures, the app registered around 65,000 new FaceApp users per day in June 2019. This increased to 1.8 million new FaceApp users per day during the viral phase – a factor of 26.
FaceApp app store rank
This viral phase was reflected in FaceApp’s app store rank. It climbed to the top position in both the iOS App Store and Google Play Store in the US.
While it had been chugging along in the 75-125 range in the photo & video category in the iOS App Store, until the second week of July it was not in the top 1,000 top apps overall.
Showing us how quickly things can change, FaceApp climbed to the top of photo & video category practically overnight, then a day later to the top of the overall ranking, after an equally overnight leap from outside the top 1,000 to around the top 10.
FaceApp US iOS App Store rank, Jun-July 2019
Taking a longer-term view, using Sensor Tower FaceApp stats, we can see that, while the app might have been outside the top 1,000 apps in the iOS App Store in early July (in the US), it ranked as high as 343 in May – showing that while it may not have been making headlines, the app had not quite been consigned to the dustbin of obscurity.
The July peak saw it retain top spot in the iOS App Store for a little longer than a week, from July 14 to July 22. By August 5, it had dropped down to 133.
FaceApp US iOS App Store rank: overall, May-August 2019
Source: Sensor Tower
The aforementioned May mini peak saw FaceApp reach 28 in the photo & video category. During the viral phase it reached first place on July 13, where it remained until July 25. As of August 5, it was still in the top-10 in this app category.
FaceApp US iOS App Store rank: photo & video, May-August 2019
Source: Sensor Tower
Of course, FaceApp’s viral appeal went far beyond the US. Reportedly FaceApp topped the iOS App Store in no fewer than 121 countries.
SimilarWeb FaceApp stats show a similar trend on Google Play. FaceApp began July in 40th in the Play Store’s photography category. After a week’s steady, though rapid, ascent, it reached first place in this category – holding this position until the end of the month (that’s the purple line, natch).
It also occupied the top spot in the overall ranking, between July 17 and July 23 – not ranking at all prior to July 14, when it came in at 185. It managed to maintain a top-10 position until the 28th, though began August as low as 50th, perhaps signalling the end of FaceApp’s period of peak virality.
FaceApp US Google Play rank: overall/photography, July 2019
As of early August, FaceApp was holding a higher Google Play Store rank in markets outside of the US. For instance in France and Germany it remained in the top-five in the overall ranking (despite dropping from second in Germany to fourth).
In the UK and Canada it maintains a relatively high Google Play rank, albeit not quite at the same level. In all four of the aforementioned markets it holds onto the top-spot in the photography category.
FaceApp Google Play Rank in selected markets, week 1 August 2019
This is not the first time the app has figured highly in the British market. FaceApp was revealed by Google to be the most-popular new app of 2017 in the UK.
SimilarWeb’s collection of FaceApp stats also show us FaceApp users’ most-used app categories. Unsurprisingly, photography apps are the most popular, followed by a collection that we might fairly describe as the usual suspects: communication, tools, and entertainment.
FaceApp users: most-popular app categories used
Despite the controversy around FaceApp, users continued to download the app in throngs. We might also note that FaceApp boasts enviable user ratings, with the vast majority of users moved to rate the app giving it a five-star rating.
We see a diminishing quantity of reviews as we go down the star ratings, except right at the very bottom (those who feel the app only warrants a one-star review are perhaps more inclined to actually bother leaving a scathing review than those who would score it two whose relationship with the app might be something closer to indifference).
FaceApp iOS user rating – US
Source: Sensor Tower
We see the same trend in the UK also.
FaceApp iOS user rating – UK
Source: Sensor Tower
App Annie FaceApp stats show the same thing. 2.1 million US Google Play ratings generate an average rating of 4.47, while 0.8 million iOS App Store reviews give us an average of 4.74.
FaceApp Google Play rating – US
Source: App Annie
FaceApp iOS App Store rating – US
Source: App Annie
FaceApp Usage Statistics
We can see an illustration of FaceApp’s ascent to viral popularity in its SimilarWeb usage rank (based on an algorithm weighted towards engagement – DAU rather than installs – to measure ‘active reach’).
As of July 2, FaceApp ranked 211 in photography by this measure. It climbed gradually over the first half of the month, before leaping up rapidly from July 15 in the photography category, where it reached the peak of seventh from July 22 to July 25. As of August 1 it had fallen to 10.
These stats pertain to Google Play usage alone
FaceApp US usage rank, July 2019, photography
In terms of overall usage rank, FaceApp lay in 8,755 on July 2. Again, it climbed gradually before a sharp upward spike. The serious uptick in FaceApp usage began on July 13 (7,043), after which the leaps up thousands of ranks per day, most notably between the 15th and 16th when we saw it leap from 4,590 to 2,063; and the following day when it leapt to 575. It reached and maintained a peak position of 256 on July 23-26. It had fallen to 274 by Aug 1.
FaceApp US usage rank, July 2019, overall
As with its Google Play Store rank, FaceApp commanded a higher usage rank in European markets in early August than it did in the US. In the photography category it ranked highest in the UK, where it maintained a position in the top-five apps according to SimilarWeb’s usage measure.
It also maintained a top 150 position in the UK in terms of overall usage, and a top-200 position in France. In Germany and Canada it was closer to the its US rank.
FaceApp usage rank in selected markets, week 1 August 2019
FaceApp data security
Potentially worryingly for viral FaceApp users – and any previously active ones: when FaceApp users sign up they are agreeing, according to the terms of service, to let FaceApp/Wireless use their face for whatever purpose they please. Users are also giving the app access to Siri and Search functions.
What are the potential consequences of this? As Forbes reports, the most likely application to which your face might be turned is to training an AI facial-recognition algorithm (remember, FaceApp is powered by AI).
Of course, the Russian-base of the Wireless has made some uneasy. US senator Chuck Schumer has called for nothing less than an FBI investigation. An investigation, again reported by Forbes, found that photos were mostly being sent to Amazon servers in the US, however. Others were sent to Google servers in Ireland and Singapore.
The app was only found to take photos submitted by FaceApp users to these servers, and not all photos stored on users’ phones, as some on social media feared would be the case – though this would be permitted according to the terms of service, to which users have agreed.
The company later made a statement to this effect, saying that the processing takes place mostly in the cloud, with most photos deleted after 48 hours. It added that users could request that their data could be deleted through the ‘report a bug’ feature in the app. In mid-July, a backlog of data deletion requests was reported by the app.
Ostensibly, then, bar some covert machinations, it seems that FaceApp is no worse than any other app with which one might agree to share data (ahem, Facebook). Of course, in the 21st century, ‘ostensibly’ is doing a lot of heavy lifting…
Indeed, even if foul play is not occurring, then certainly, the access FaceApp demands at least creates the opportunity for it in the future.
FaceApp Revenue Statistics
We don’t have concrete FaceApp revenue statistics. Yaroslav Goncharov has claimed that the app is profitable and reports good revenue and growth.
FaceApp utilises a premium subscription revenue model. Users who want pictures shorn of the FaceApp watermark, an ad-free experience, and access to handful of premium features can invest in a premium subscription.
Users are able to pay $3.99/month for premium usage. Keener users can part with $20 for a year, or those who are convinced they’re going to get substantial mileage from the app for years to come can pay a one-off $40 fee for lifetime access.
We don’t know for sure how many people use the app, let alone how many paid subscribers FaceApp counts. Goncharov has said that around 1% of users pay for the premium subscribers. Between them they generate over 99% of FaceApp revenue, with the remainder coming from hosting Google ads.
Forbes estimates that the app is making a minimum of $4 million in annual revenue, using what it claims are conservative figures
Sensor Tower, on the other hand, estimates $7 million of FaceApp revenue in July alone; $5 million through iOS and the remaining $2 million through Google Play.
Russia Today reported that FaceApp generated $1 million over a 10 day period between July 9 and July 19 (citing App Annie figures).
Search for ‘FaceApp’ and you will be met with a veritable deluge of pieces covering *that* clause in the user agreement.
As of early August 2019, it does seem as if the phase of peak FaceApp virality is over. The question is, to what extent can this be ascribed to security concerns? And to what extent to the fact that, surely, there’s only so long that app users can be entertained by seeing themselves as old?
The only way we’ll truly know is if and when FaceApp has another viral moment. So – for now – we must wait and see.
Without wanting to nail our colours to the mast, it does not seem that the fears arising around the app around mid-July were overly detrimental to download or usage figures. The decline we see here looks more like the natural tailing off of a viral app. Indeed, the fears around FaceApp were not new, and certainly had been reported much earlier in the app’s lifespan.
As in the past, no matter how hard journalists and experts tell us we need to be more careful with our data, it seems that if we are presented with a suitably entertaining app, that we will continue to download and use it in our droves.
How concerned should we be? Well, investigations made by data security experts – and there are a few – seem to indicate that there is no foul play occurring. This comes with assurances from Yaroslav Goncharov to the same tune, along with indications (not promises) that the offending clause will be removed from future iterations of app.
And as mentioned above there are plenty of other apps which are equally if not more problematic. Certainly, FaceApp’s Russian origin does not do it any favours in this regard, reputationally at least.
Whether this is fair or not, the one thing we can certainly agree on is that no user agreement need be so far reaching as FaceApp’s – whether malicious or just sloppy. If nothing dodgy is going on, there is no need to create the possibility of something dodgy happening in the future.
It’s a shame, because it means the discussion has been derailed from some other fascinating aspects of this app. The ability of photo & video apps to capture the imagination for example; the very concept of virality and how it spreads through influencers and social networks; and perhaps most fascinatingly, the huge power and potential of the neural networks we can now access through our phones.
From FaceApp, we can learn a lot about these things, as well how users react to app controversies. Hopefully we will not also be leaning the hard way about how app user agreements can leave us vulnerable to data abuses also…