About two seconds before dropping a selfie in PopSugar’s Twinning app, a web app that generates your celebrity look-alike based on a user-uploaded selfie, I hesitated. “I work for a tech website,” I said to myself. “I know better than this.” But in the end, my desire to affirm my likeness for Troye Sivan won out over my desire to secure my privacy online. And I got let down on both accounts.
Techcrunch uncovered that—big shocker!—the selfies users uploaded to the Twinning app were publicly accessible in an Amazon Web Services storage bucket. All you needed to access these pics was code you could easily find on the Twinning website itself. And beyond that, a simple Google search will show you a number of matches (including some of children), so you can be the judge of these (definitely incorrect) results yourself.
But would I be so upset about this if it actually twinned me with Troye Sivan? Probably not. Instead, this app says I’m a 78 percent match with Leelee Sobieski (who?), a 26.6 percent match with my longtime celebrity crush Carey Mulligan, and didn’t even list Troye as an option! Seriously?!
Maybe these matches are based mostly on the similarity of our noses, as one of my friends suggested to me. I guess my face is weirdly angular like Leelee’s, and I’m blonde and cute like Carey, but it’s the only answer that I can think of to produce such an affront to my Troye-ish looks. PopSugar, will you promise to only leak pictures of my nose since clearly that’s the only thing your algorithm used to generate this match?
Beyond this affront to my Troye Sivan-hood (and, you know, that privacy breach), the twinning app continues to perpetuate the racism inherent in facial recognition AI: our consumer tech reporter Victoria Song was given the same South Korean actress as two out of the five lookalikes it pulled for her.
What database is PopSugar even using to generate these matches? It must be pretty crappy, considering that it mislabeled one of Victoria’s matches, attributing a photo of French actress Catherine Deneuve as “Catherine Chen,” who, on first Google search, is actually a 19-year-old American actress. Hmm!
Look, I’m concerned about my digital privacy about as much as the average person who spends a lot of time on the internet. The number of data leaks from Facebook this year have only made me more concerned about what I’m sharing online, where I’m logged in, and even got me to start paying for a password manager.
I don’t think anyone’s particularly shocked that the selfies we all uploaded to the app are publicly accessible. At this point, it’s an unfortunate reality that anything we put online is likely to go far beyond the reach we intended. But at the end of the day, I’m a dumbass who just wants to be told by an algorithm something that I already know.
Just next time, PopSugar, before dumping my selfies online, let me know you’re going to do it so I can pick a good one. Okay?
Updated: Techcrunch has updated their initial report, noting that soon after it was published, the storage bucket was locked down. In an email, a Popsugar engineer reportedly told the site that “the bucket permissions weren’t set correctly.” This story has been updated to reflect the change.