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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

What You Should Know About Voilà, the Latest Viral Selfie App

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After more than a year of living online, you’d be forgiven if the line between reality and digital life started to get blurry. And the latest viral face-swapping app, Voilà AI Artist, isn’t helping by turning all your friends and loved ones into Pixar-style animated characters, renaissance paintings, and 2D cartoons. If you haven’t already been swept up by the app, here’s what it does and why you might want to be careful using it.

What Voilà Does

Voilà is a photo manipulation app for iOS and Android that takes a photo of your face and, using some AI magic, turns your photo into something that kinda looks like a cartoon character. The app has four primary modes: 3D cartoon (i.e. the Pixar/Disney style), Renaissance painting, 2D cartoons (still pretty Disney-ified), and caricatures.

That’s pretty much it! Unlike similar apps like FaceApp, there aren’t many advanced editing features or tools. Once the filter is applied, you can choose from three different variations—for example, under Renaissance, you can choose between 15th-, 18th-, or 20th-century options—but you can’t tweak features like the mouth or hair, or play around with basic image editing tools like color or contrast.

You can choose photos that you’ve already taken to upload, or you can use your phone’s camera to take a new one. The app even features a celebrity image search, so if you ever wanted to see what Tommy Wiseau would look like as a Disney princess, now’s your chance.

Voilà has become wildly popular in just the past few weeks; according to data from app analytics company Sensor Tower, it jumped from nearly 300,000 installs across the iOS App Store and Google Play Store globally in April to nearly 8 million already in June. More than half of all installs have come from Brazil, although Sensor Tower says about 2.3 million have come from the United States.

How Much It Charges (and For What)

Once you start using Voilà, it won’t be long before you stumble upon one of the many ways the app makes money. For starters, you can expect to see a full-screen ad or two after nearly every image upload. However, you can remove ads by subscribing to the app. Yes, that’s a subscription, not a purchase. There is no way to buy the app just once.

In exchange for a Voilà Pro subscription, not only will ads be removed, but the app will use “Turbo processing”—though it’s unclear how much faster the app would be; in my testing experience, the ads took longer to sit through than the processing itself—and remove watermarks from images.

Voilà Pro costs as much as $2 per week on Android or $3 per week on iOS (yes, the iOS version is more expensive across the board). If you pay for the entire year, Android users can get the app for $21 and iOS can get a year for $30. It’s worth pointing out here that paying by the week for a year could cost over $100 on both platforms, so on the off chance you plan to use the pro version for a long time, it’s not a good idea to use weekly payments.

To be clear, Voilà does provide the functionality it promises—if you want cartoonified images of yourself, you’ll get them—but so do many other similar apps. ToonMe, for example, went around the internet doing a very similar thing just a few months ago. If you’ve already forgotten about ToonMe (or never heard of it to begin with), you probably don’t need a year’s subscription to Voilà, so make sure you don’t accidentally sign up for a recurring payment that will quietly drain your account.

How Viral Apps Can (Potentially) Hurt Your Privacy

Canceling a paid subscription to a viral app (or, better yet, not subscribing in the first place) is the easy part. What’s harder is keeping your data private when you download the hot new meme app that’s going around. As with many other apps of its kind, Voilà gets permission to transfer and store your images—necessary if you want to use the app—which the company says it deletes after 24 to 48 hours, but there’s no way to confirm if that actually happens.

The app also uses your data for targeted advertising, which is unfortunately fairly common. However, outside the normal data privacy issues we’ve all come to expect, it’s important to be aware of how viral apps can be used as data collection schemes. The 2018 Cambridge Analytica scandal, for example, began with a Facebook app that paid users to answer a few questions, but then harvested more data than it revealed about users’ friends and family. Even data collection through specifically face-altering apps is common.

None of this is to totally poop the party. As of right now, there’s no evidence that Voilà specifically is doing any shady data collection or selling, but it’s important to trust the apps you download and use. And even if there is no unethical data harvesting going on, Voilà’s subscription fees are very similar to other apps that often hope users will subscribe once and forget to cancel. Which doesn’t do much to help generate trust.

It’s up to you to decide what risks are worth taking with your money, data, and privacy, but it’s important to be informed about what those risks are.

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