New cartoon-filter app raises questions about user security

The popularity of a new app that let's users convert their pictures into 'cartoon' images is, once again, raising concerns about what kind of personal information some of us are sharing.

Facebook and Instagram users have probably seen the cartoon-images created by the Voila AI Artist app. Introduced this Spring, it's already got more than eight million downloads on Apple and Android.

That's eight million people who've invited this Canadian-based company to root through their phones, and some experts think this latest craze introduces a new level of potential trouble.

University of Houston vice-chancellor for IT, Mary Dickerson is among them.

"The easiest way to trick someone is to get them to volunteer to do something for you," she says.


As fun as the images are, as our photos are turned into cartoon-like versions, Dickerson and other security experts think there's legitimate concern about what apps, like these, may do with our personal information.

The latest worry involves the potential for 'facial recognition', and the database of all the images on your phone, being collected.

She imagines app-developers may ponder their options, "Since you posted all these pieces of information about yourself, and now we know what the dimensions of your face are, then maybe we could fake some type of facial recognition to open your iPhone, or do something like that."

It's an extension of quizzes and lists on social media that ask for personal details. At best, they're fuel for marketers trying to sell us something; worse, they could help hackers looking to burrow into our lives.

Dickerson acknowledges there's already a lot of our personal information floating around the internet, as a trade-off to convenience and connection for using things, like Google and social media. Still, she encourages users have their eyes wide open, before offering any more.

"It's a risk, but it's a risk you can choose to take, or a risk you can choose not to take," she warns, "Make an informed decision as to what the value is to you."


There's no indication that the Voila app is doing anything wrong with those images, and developers tell CNet that images are discarded within 48 hours. The fine print, however, does stipulate they do collect personal information and reserve the right to share that data with third-party partners, who can track your activity across the internet.

It is not the first time someone has done such a thing, but a good reminder before proceeding with the latest fad.