In this day and age, there’s always some new app or service for your Android or iOS device going viral; halfway through 2022, another one is making its mark.
Available as a free download on iPhone (opens in new tab) and Android devices (opens in new tab), NewProfilePic: Profile Picture can take a photo of you – or use an existing photo – and turn it into a drawing, thanks to AI (Artificial Intelligence).
Having used it for a recent family event, I have to say the accuracy of the filter, and the different styles you can use, make this app a fun experience. However, recent reports of the app stealing your data have put a damper on the enthusiasm for this app.
We spoke to its developers to find out what they’re doing with our data – and why they created the app in the first place.
Your best portrait
We spoke to Kristina Lunina, a spokesperson for Linerock, to ask what prompted them to design the app in the first place.
“We were mulling over the idea of the app for a long time as we saw multitudes of users using Photo Lab and ToonMe effects [for] their profile pictures on social platforms, and decided to develop another app that solved this task in a better way,” Lumina explains. “We want to change the how people think of their profile pics.”
Using AI to make the best cartoon of yourself
Previous apps in this area, such as the Russia-developed FaceApp (which was, incidentally, slapped with a “potential counterintelligence threat” warning by the US FBI), use algorithms to calculate how a selfie could be manipulated to make the subject older or younger. NewProfilePic simply turns the subject into a drawing. We asked Lunina how the app does this.
“Our AI cartoons technology is based on a neural network that calculates how the picture can be transformed into a drawing … using something called a Generative Adversarial Network (GAN), which is an AI technology,” Lumina tells us. “The main difficulty in training such AI networks lies in getting high-resolution, artifact-free drawings out of your images of any quality, without using additional information such as personal data.”
“To achieve this kind of result, we’ve developed a unique approach to training these AI networks,” Lunina clarifies. “While it’s enabled us to create the cartoon effect, more features are almost ready to be introduced in Photo Lab, such as other portrait styles, realistic, automatic-beautifier looks, and realistic emotions to add to your photos.”
The privacy elephant in the room
Reading the reviews in the App Store and the Google Play Store, some users have shared reading reports about the app taking personal data once it finishes converting a photo into a cartoon. We pressed Lunina further to see if there was any merit in these reports.
“For example, the page states that ‘The detected key points may be kept along with the photo on the servers of our providers for up to two weeks from the last interaction with the photo.’ The only purpose of this is to speed up any further processing of the same photos,” says Lunina.
“I would want to add that all user photos are hosted and processed on the Amazon AWS and Microsoft Azure servers, which are located in the US. No additional data is taken – only what’s needed to help make the cartoon photos,” Lunina explains.
“We've just created a special page (opens in new tab) where we're explaining the situation to our users, and we will be updating the page in the future.”
Where next for NewProfilePic?
Finally, with laptops and tablets able to run iOS and Android apps, alongside general camera improvements in quality and speed, we wondered if the app might appear on macOS, Windows 11, or other platforms.
“We might consider it! But for now, users on laptops and other devices can use our web version (opens in new tab).” Lumina reveals.