Cartoon yourself—but stay alert and know the real cost of apps
July 7, 2021
If you’re on social media at all these days, you can’t ignore a ubiquitous app called Voilà AI Artist that turns photos of individuals into Pixar-style cartoon figures. Many users find the idea of creating cartoon versions of themselves irresistible. But users who succumb should inform themselves about giving access to apps like Voilà.
CNET reporter Jessica Dolcourt recently described how to use the app. Voilà begins by turning a photo of your face into three different cartoon versions. You can also convert the photo into a Renaissance painter version of yourself or make it into a caricature. It’s easy to do. Download the app and allow it access to your camera roll. Select the style you prefer and tap the arrow. Select the photo you want to use from your camera roll. Four options appear. You choose the one you want and either take a screenshot of it and edit it down or choose one of the four options and edit it.
If you use the free version of the app that also runs ads, a watermark will remain on the image. But you can easily remedy that; simply update to Voilà Pro for $2 per week, $4 per month, or $21 per year (June 2021 charges). You can give the pro version a try for free for three days.
So far, this seems pretty harmless. You get a cartoon version of your photo free or for what seems like a pretty low cost. But savvy users should ask themselves: What does the app get from you?
Eric Ravenscraft, writing for Wired, wrote in mid-June that Voilà has been installed to nearly 8 million devices worldwide. About 2.3 million of those installs came from the US. He warns potential users that when they get impatient with the ads that appear every time they upload a photo and decide to pay for the app, it’s not an actual purchase. The money you shell out for Voilà entitles you to a subscription to the app. The aggravating ads won’t appear any longer and neither will the watermarks. Cancel the subscription when you’re done cartooning yourself or get bored. The app promises to delete your images within 24 to 48 hours. Easy, right?
While apps like Voilà make money for developers through subscriptions (and ads), users should know that these apps may also make money by mining user data. In the past, data collection schemes have used viral apps. For instance, according to Ravenscraft, the 2018 Cambridge Analytica scandal began with a Facebook app that paid users to answer a few questions. It went on to harvest more data from users than those users chose to reveal in their answers—and about their families and friends. Data from such schemes are then typically sold and used to target social media advertising.
Ravenscraft was careful to point out that there is no reason to believe Voilà is collecting data users haven’t given it permission to access. However, it is something to consider.
“…[E]ven 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,” Ravenscraft wrote.
So have fun cartooning yourself, but stay alert and aware by being an informed app consumer.