This simple new app solves one of the biggest privacy problems on the iPhone


Apple has gone to great lengths to make iOS, the operating system on your iPhone, as “privacy-protective” as it gets. For example, it requires developers to ask for permission before their apps can track you. It also allows you to see exactly what information Apps collect. Last year, the company introduced Private Relay to protect your browsing activity from prying eyes, and the “Hide My Email” feature lets you use a burner email address when you sign up for an app or service.

All of these features are the result of Apple’s belief that “privacy is a fundamental human right.” For the most part, Apple’s commitment to protecting the privacy of its users is genuine. Of course, the only thing the iPhone can’t do is protect people from themselves.

It’s a kind of law of unintended consequences. If you make something that makes it easy for people to do something they enjoy, they will do it a lot and may not think there are consequences.

The unintended consequence of having a device that you take everywhere and use to capture photos and videos of your activity is that we are conditioned to share a lot of personal information without even thinking about it. Most people don’t think about the information they provide when sharing images online.

The images you share will not only include the faces of the people in the photo, but will also contain information such as where you took the photo, what camera you used, your device type and name, and more. And what about if that photo features other people who might not necessarily want to see their faces on social media?

Most people don’t even think about putting pictures of their kids or friends or a bunch of random strangers in the background at an amusement park or sporting event. The point is, nothing on the internet ever really disappears.

Fortunately, there’s a simple app that solves the problem, even if you didn’t know it was something you should care about in the first place. I spoke to independent developer and podcaster, Casey Liss, about his new app MaskAid. Liss told me the idea for the app came about when he thought of the images he posted of his son:

I don’t think he would really care about the pictures I posted because they aren’t embarrassing. They are not crazy for the most part. They’re just pictures of my kid. But it occurred to me that it should kind of be his choice and at age four he’s not in a position to understand what consent is and what that means.

After years of trying not to post his kids’ faces online, Liss says he thought there must be a better way. It also occurred to him that there were probably other people who might have the same problem.

I was watching a WWDC session and they were talking about face detection. And it was one of those things that kind of, you know, washed over me. And then fast forward a few months or a year or something like that, and it occurred to me that I could use a combination of Apple’s face detection API along with things I put around it to make it super easy to put emoji or a other occlusion, but for now emoji for people’s faces.

So I started messing around with this a bit and in just a day or two I had put together a very rudimentary proof of concept and six months later MaskAid came out.

The free app is as simple as it gets. Open an image and it will automatically detect all faces and place an emoji over them. You can resize or even add extra emoji to anything else you want to hide in the image. A one-time in-app purchase of $3.00 unlocks the entire library of emojis forever.

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It makes sense that this app would appeal to parents, or anyone else who just wants a really simple way to annotate images to hide faces or other identifying information. But as with any technology, it also has unintended consequences – or at least unintended use – although that’s a good thing in this case.

When you export a modified image from MaskerAid, all metadata is also removed from the file. That part is perhaps its best feature. Every time you upload a photo to Facebook, for example, the social media giant removes the location and other information before publishing the photo, but still collects it for its own purposes. With MaskAid it only gets the image and the file size.

I like this story for two reasons. The first is that Liss came up with an innovative way to solve a problem that he and many other people had, which is trying to be aware of privacy online. And it’s not just parents.

“A few people reached out and pointed out that this could be used for protesters, maybe in Russia, who are really taking a huge personal risk by expressing their faith,” Liss told me. “You could take a picture of a crowd of people and, you know, MaskAid could potentially help hide their faces. In the same way, if you take pictures of people defending Ukraine, you could use this to hide their faces.” .”

The other thing I love is that the app solves a privacy problem that we all have, even if we don’t think about it. That’s the problem, we tend to share a lot more personal information than we want to. MaskAid makes it easy to share images and only share what you want to reveal.

It’s not uncommon for someone to build something and end up using it for a purpose other than it was intended, or in ways you couldn’t have foreseen. Sometimes it’s a good thing, like a simple app that gives you control over what you share online.

The opinions expressed here by columnists are their own, not’s.

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