Privacy concerns about Meitu, the popular anime photo app

Privacy concerns about Meitu, the popular anime photo app

Meitu is an anime photo app out of China that has recently become hugely popular in the West, with more than 430 million users outside of China. It's gone viral and users are flocking to it, but they may want to think twice.

It describes itself as "Think of us as a one touch photoshop for enhancing your beauty and putting the finishing touches on your photos!" on iTunes. A recent update enables the user to take selfies and make them look like hand-drawn pictures. The word "meitu" roughly translates to "beautiful picture."

It's free, and it's rated age 4+ on iTunes and E for everyone on Google Play. All good, right?

Actually, no.

I've been a big believer that everyone (even teens) should read the fine print on apps and know what they're signing up for. Meitu is exactly why.

Meitu wants access to an incredible amount of data, including your location and phone number. It's invasive ways are why the teach experts aren't downloading this app, as this article by Sean Hollister on CNET.com explains.

"Meitu is asking for an awful lot of your data in exchange for the lolz -- and the app also seems to contain some rather suspicious code," he writes.

"[T]he app also seems to contain some rather suspicious code," he adds.

Meitu wants to prevent the phone from sleeping, to automatically run itself at startup, to reorder runnings apps, to control vibration and to change your audio settings.

A selfie app shouldn't mind if my teen puts her phone to sleep or whether it vibrates or not, or any of that other stuff.

Jonathan Zdziarski is a privacy researcher who wrote a string of tweets today highlighting some of the issues with Meitu.

He also notes that Meitu can determine which cellular carrier you're using, and can uniquely identify your device using the hardware MAC address of the phone.

For me the question is "why?" Why do they want the data? And what are they doing with it?

There aren't answers. And when they come, the answers may not be bad, but why take the unnecessary risk?

I think needing to know location and phone number alone could be deal breakers, let alone the other info gathering.

Meitu is certainly not the only app that wants to collect a great deal of information its users. It is an opportunity to talk with your kids about the broader issues of digital privacy and it illustrates how much of that you give up in just a few clicks.

Free apps are great, but just as there's no such thing as a free lunch, you have to figure that there is some cost somewhere and with Meitu, it appears to be with your privacy. The data and info they get from you can help them make money.

It's a reminder to set and review ground rules with your kids about apps, privacy, and what information shouldn't be shared.

Also, people have also criticized the app for perpetuating unrealistic standards of beauty. "[N]ot everyone loves the aggressive touch-ups. Critics say apps such as Meitu skew the standard of beauty, imposing an ideal of pale skin, big eyes, pointy chins and skinny figures on its users, especially women," according to this article on CNN.com.

It's worth talking with your kids about why they see this app as being so fun, and exploring whether they can get it from other apps that permit users to protect their privacy a bit better.

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