December 5, 2022


Everything You Value

What is ‘New Profile Pic’ app? Is it safe to use? Cybersecurity experts weigh in

If you’ve seen new Facebook profile pictures that look like a painting or cartoon, then you’ve probably noticed they all appear to come from a website and app called “New Profile Pic.”

New Profile Pic, also sometimes written as one word “NewProfilePic,” allows users to submit photos of themselves for an “AI-driven” update that makes them look like works of art. The free app is currently No. 1 on the Apple Store and has exploded in popularity on social media this month.

But some have also questioned its safety after some claimed the app “takes all your information and sends it to Moscow” as part of a Russian malware scam. The Daily Mail further suggested the app had Kremlin ties because it was developed by a tech company “overlooking the Moscow River three miles from Red Square,” but is that true?

According to fact-checking website Snopes, New Profile Pic was created by a mobile development group called Informe Laboratories, Inc., and copyrighted by Linerock Investments LTD, which also created popular smartphone apps like “ToonMe” and “Photo Lab Picture & Art.” Both are based in the British Virgin Islands, but screenshots showed the domain was registered in Moscow.

New Profile Pic’s website is now registered in Florida. A representative for the company said it was originally registered at the Moscow address of the company’s founder, who “does not live in the Russian Federation at the moment” and changed the address “to avoid any confusion.”

“All we can do is explain patiently that all our apps (including NewProfilePic) are NOT a threat. We are a BVI (British Virgin Islands) company with development offices in Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus,” a statement said. “Nevertheless, your photos (or any other data) are NOT sent to Moscow. All our apps are server-based and user images are uploaded to Amazon AWS / Microsoft Azure servers located in the US. This is necessary in order to apply all those fancy effects driven by AI technologies.”

James Ritter, a cyber security expert and CEO of Pulse Tech, told WBBH-TV that even if the website and app’s owner are now registered in Florida, there’s no evidence of a company named Linerock Investments operating in the Sunshine State.

“Everything seems to be controlled by Andersen Business Services which is still registered in Russia,” Ritter said.

The app’s owners told Snopes that the company never had an office in Russia, but lawyers at Andersen Business Services who registered it do have an address on Moscow River.

Ritter said there’s no evidence of anything malicious, but all smartphone apps, including New Profile Pic, do collect information on users.

“It is scraping the data from your Facebook account,” Ritter told WBBH.

Doug Jacobson, a professor of computer engineering at Iowa State University, recommends doing research and checking reviews before downloading an app that you’re unfamiliar with. (You can read the company’s privacy policy on its website.)

“Most of the apps that we download, especially the ones that are free are harvesting some type of information because nothing is free. Our data is used as a currency in the internet,” Jacobson told KCCI. “A lot of the time it’s just collecting data about our preferences. Sometimes they’ll have ads in these apps, and so you click on the ad and it’ll build a little bit of a history about what your preferences are, that information helps advertisers.”

Snopes concluded that claims the app is unusually invasive is untrue, comparing it to other mainstream apps. New Profile Pic’s developer also created ToonMe and PhotoLab, which have been around for years and have more than 150 million installs on Google Play with no evidence of stealing money or giving users’ data to the Kremlin.