Meet Meitu, the Chinese photo-editing app now taking the world by storm

Chinese photo-editing app Meitu faces privacy concerns over data collection

Who says a little nip and tuck needs to be painful? Thanks to technology, you’ll never have to go under the knife to get the effects of plastic surgery. Meet Meitu, the Chinese app taking the world by storm with its instant beautifying effects that will turn you into whomever you want to be — in your photographs, that is. The app, originally launched in 2008, has been popular in its homeland for nearly a decade, but it’s just now crossing international borders. With its $4.5 billion initial public offering last year, more and more users around the world are discovering the wonderfully weird world of Meitu. But with great attention comes great scrutiny, and now Meitu is facing a host of privacy concerns.

Think of the app as Photoshop for your selfies, where the end goal is making you look as drop dead gorgeous — even if that means looking a bit like an anime character — as possible. A staggering 450 million users across Asia upload and edit some 6 billion photos every month, adding different-colored backgrounds, augmented reality frames, “hyper-cute” stickers, filters, and blemish-banishing brush tools to beautify your photographs. Perhaps the most popular feature is “Beauty Retouch,” which takes away your sun spots or age lines, and also serves to enlarge your eyes.

And if more than just your face is in the frame, you can slim yourself down, curve yourself up, or even make yourself appear taller. Once you’re happy with the finished product, you can share your digital makeover on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or your social media channel of choice.

But all this beautification comes at a cost, apparently. While it’s true that most (if not all) apps collect some data on users, Meitu is asking for an awful lot. Not only does the app have access to your camera, but also to your GPS location, service provider information, Wi-Fi connection data, SIM card information, jailbroken status, and various other personal identifiers that could be used for tracking purposes. But despite this abundance of information, experts have noted that it doesn’t seem all that nefarious. Will Strafach, co-founder of the app security firm Verify.ly, told Wired that none of Meitu’s data collection is “far outside the norm.”

Jonathan Zdziarski, an iOS security researcher and forensics expert, also took a look at Meitu, and noted, “It’s mostly par for the course junk. I didn’t see anything overtly evil, but that doesn’t mean there’s not something more serious in there. The thing [that’s noteworthy] is the number of different analytics and ad-tracking packages they’ve loaded into the app. I counted at least half a dozen different packages in there. You don’t generally need that many unless you’re selling data.”

We should also note, however, that Meitu might be collecting all this information in order to comply with Chinese law. A new edict requires app makers to identify their users and prevent them from uploading banned content, and the Chinese government has apparently been pretty strict about this.

In another development, Meitu recently unveiled a new feature called “hand-drawn selfies,” which basically allow you to superimpose your face onto one of six variations — Angelic, Blossoms, Fairytale, Petals, Mermaid, and Baroness. The result is a bit crazy, but also crazy fun, as it has allowed users to turn themselves, their friends, and yes, even various celebrities into caricatures of themselves.

So go ahead and take Meitu out for a spin. We promise we won’t judge you if you fall victim to the fascination.

Download for iOS Download for Android

Article originally published in January 2017. Updated on 01-20-2017: Added reports of potential security and privacy issues. 

Social Media

Twitter’s latest effort to tackle abusive content focuses on Direct Messages

Twitter launched a new feature designed to filter out abusive Direct Messages from people you don't follow. The content is collected in one place and can still be viewed if you want to periodically check what's coming in.
Movies & TV

Here are the best shows on Netflix right now (August 2019)

Looking for a new show to binge? Lucky for you, we've curated a list of the best shows on Netflix, whether you're a fan of outlandish anime, dramatic period pieces, or shows that leave you questioning what lies beyond.
Gaming

How to install a solid-state drive in a PlayStation 4 or PS4 Pro

SSDs are much faster than mechanical hard drives, which is what the PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 4 Pro come with. Here, we show you how to replace it with an SSD, which will allow you to boot to the OS faster and load games quicker.
Computing

Which version of Windows is the right option for you?

Not sure what version of Windows to get? Here are the major features of Windows 10 Home vs. Pro vs. the newer Windows 10 in S mode to help you figure out which one belongs on your computer.
Mobile

These fraudulent Android apps were downloaded 8 million times

According to a new report from security research firm Trend Micro, a hefty 85 Android apps have been caught serving fraudulent ads that take over the user's screen -- and those apps have been downloaded 8 million times.
Deals

Score this Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus with a huge $101 discount at Amazon

If you're thinking about upgrading your phone and not willing to expend over $800 on the S10, the Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus is a great option. It's discounted by $101 at Amazon, dropping its price from $700 to only $599.
Social Media

Spice up your Instagram videos by adding your top tunes to the soundtrack

Have you ever taken a beautiful video, only to have it ruined by some jerk in the background yelling curse words? Here's a list of apps you can use to add your own music to Instagram posts as well as your Story.
Deals

Grab the terrific Samsung Galaxy A50 phone for $126 less on Amazon

Samsung is mostly known for its premium Galaxy S and Note Series phones, but it also manufactures cheaper phones through the A-Series. An example is the Samsung Galaxy A50 which not only looks great but also boasts a lot of features.
Mobile

Best alternatives to Google’s preinstalled Android apps

Want to get away from Google's preinstalled Android apps, such as Gmail, Google Calendar, and Maps? These are the best alternatives to the apps that come with your phone, which are pretty great, but not for everybody.
Computing

Sending SMS messages from your PC is easier than you might think

Texting is a fact of life, but what do you do when you're in the middle of something on your laptop or just don't have your phone handy? Here's how to send a text message from a computer, whether via an email client or Windows 10.
Mobile

Looking for love or just some fun? Cozy up with the best dating apps of 2019

Everyone knows online dating can be stressful, time-consuming, and downright awful. Check out our top picks for the best dating apps, so you can streamline the process and find the right date, whatever you're looking for.
Mobile

Small companies may differ, but all need good, reasonably priced cell service

There's no single cell phone plan that will suit every small company, but with numerous high quality plans from a variety of major carriers, you will find one that suits your needs. We pick some plans and outline what you need to know.
Product Review

Here's what we think after a weekend with Samsung's giant Galaxy Note 10 Plus

Samsung’s Galaxy Note 10 Plus is here, and it’s the biggest and best Samsung phone ever. Its key feature is its looks, as it has an attractive rear design, highlighted by the new Aura Glow color, but little else has changed.
Mobile

Fitbit Versa 2 will reportedly roll out September 15 with OLED display, Alexa

Leaked images confirm that the Fitbit Versa 2 will come with an OLED display and Alexa integration, with more than four days of battery life. A source claims that the Fitbit Versa successor will be released on September 15.