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Jan 20, 2017 07:30 AM EST

Meitu Is A Privacy Nightmare: Viral Anime-Style Selfie App Unnecessarily Collects Personal Data


People nowadays aren't strangers to photo editors. As the selfie era continues to rise, developers have created numerous photo editors that people can use to remove blemishes from their faces or make their eyes or hair color stand out. Some apps, however, are gunning for silliness and distort faces, putting cat or dog features on a user's face, or making them puke rainbows.

China-based Meitu is one of those makeover apps. It transforms the user's selfie into an adorable anime character with excessively glossy hair, overly white skin, sparkly face and big, doll-like eyes. This cute app, however, appears to be far from harmless inside.

The popular app has been receiving criticisms lately for unnecessarily demanding users' personal data. According to Recode, Meitu -- especially its Android version -- asks for excessive permission from users such as their phone's GPS. It's definitely odd why a photo-editing app that whitewashes people's skin tones and transforms them into anime characters needs to know a user's location.

It's normal for photo-editing apps to ask permissions for a phone's camera, for instance, before downloading. But Meitu, aside from the GPS, also demands access to a user's cell carrier information, SIM card data, Wi-Fi connection information, jailbreak status and personal details that can be used to track a user and his/her device on the internet, Wired listed.

Greg Linares, a security researcher at the threat management firm Vectra Networks, said that various apps collect data but users feel safe with them because they are "well-known company names which we have already trusted our data with." Meitu, on the other hand, is a foreign app that collects "some very odd data that shouldn't be looked at necessarily for the application functioning."

Jonathan Zdziarski, iOS security researcher and forensics expert, found half a dozen ad tracking packages in Meitu's code. Zdziarski said that an app doesn't need that many "unless you're selling data." It's possible that Meitu is collecting and selling some of a user's personal information to advertising services that are on the lookout for recipients for their ads.

Check out Meitu in action below. The app currently ranks 33rd on Apple's top free iPhone apps chart, analytics firm, App Annie reported. That ranking makes Meitu more popular than SoundCloud and Yelp.

Meitu is available for download on iTunes and Google Play. Although, it's up to you if you still want to download it after all these security concerns.

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