A Parent's Guide to the Lensa App
Prisma Labs launched the Lensa AI photo editor app in 2018 with the mission of allowing “anyone with no professional experience or editing skills to get great results in a matter of seconds.” However, parents should be aware that certain features of the app have stirred up controversy.
The Lensa AI app uses artificial intelligence to create self-portraits that feature a stylized image of the user’s face, morphing selfies into “Magic Avatars.” Unfortunately, as with almost everything online, Lensa AI isn’t as simple as it looks.
Users have complained that the app generates nude photos without their consent. Lensa AI also retains personal data for an unspecified period and samples art without artists’ consent.
If you’re concerned about your child’s Lensa use, talk to them about those concerns. You can help your child delete their Lensa account and request that Lensa delete your child’s data.
Here’s everything you might want to know about the Lensa app as a parent.
What is the Lensa AI photo editor app?
Lensa AI is an image editing app available on Google Play and the Apple App Store. It was created by Prisma Labs in Sunnyvale, California. Prisma Labs was founded in 2016 by Alexey Moiseenkov, Andrey Usoltsev, and a team of Russian developers.
The Lensa AI app went viral in December 2022 for its “Magic Avatars” feature, which uses artificial intelligence to transform selfies into customized portraits. Many celebrities have used Lensa to create portraits, including Sam Asghari, Lilly Singh, Steve Aoki, and Chance the Rapper.
Unsurprisingly, droves of teens and young adults have followed suit due to their fear of missing out (FOMO). The app is particularly appealing to teens and young adults since it “improves” selfies by retouching faces to fit conventional notions of attractiveness.
How does the Lensa app work?
Users can use Lensa’s Magic Avatars feature by uploading 10 to 20 selfies and paying a small fee to receive digital portraits of themselves in various styles, including “fairy princess” and “anime.”
What are the concerns with using the Lensa app?
There are several concerns with using the Lensa app.
Lensa Can Generate Sexualized and Nude Images
Lensa is not intended for children under 13 (16 if you live in the European Economic Area). It also has a “no nudes” policy. Unfortunately, despite these restrictions, Lensa has generated sexualized and nude images, including those of children.
According to this report, many users, particularly women, have noticed that even when they upload non-sexualized photos, the app creates nude pictures and adds sexualized features — such as huge breasts and suggestive poses — to their images. One woman even received sexualized and nude pictures after uploading childhood photos.
The same report revealed that sexualization was also often racialized. Multiple women of color have experienced Lensa anglicizing their features and whitening their skin. And one woman of East Asian descent said that the app gave her an “ahegao” face in photos where she didn’t look white. “Ahegao” is a term in Japanese pornography referring to a facial expression of women during sex, typically with crossed or rolling eyes and a slightly reddened face to show ecstasy and arousal.
Lensa May Retain Personal Data for an Unspecified Amount of Time
- Device information: This includes information about your child’s internet connection and mobile device, including their operating system, IP address, unique device identifier, and mobile network information.
- IDFA (on iOS) or AAID (for Android): This is the key that enables third-party tracking on mobile phones. If you disable it, data brokers and advertisers will have a harder time tracking and profiling you.
- Usage details: This includes details of your child’s use of Lensa, including frequency of use and application features they access and engage with. Lensa uses this information for in-app event analytics and, upon your child’s consent, for marketing purposes.
“We may not accommodate a request to change information if we believe the change would violate any law or legal requirement or cause the information to be incorrect.”
As such, users’ rights to request changes to their information may be limited.
Lensa Uses an Artificial Intelligence (AI) Model That Steals From Real Artists
Lastly, Lensa is controversial for using Stable Diffusion, an artificial intelligence model that “learns” from sampling artwork from artists that never consented to their work being used.
Stable Diffusion works by:
- Tapping into a pool of images drawn from every corner of the internet
- Compiling the images into a dataset called LAION-5B
- Using the LAION-5B images to learn techniques that it applies to create new artworks
While Lensa’s Magic Avatars are not copies of any particular artist’s artwork, artists were furious that Lensa used Stable Diffusion to sample their work without their explicit permission. They were also frustrated by how Lensa’s Magic Avatars took commission opportunities away from digital artists.
What to do if your child has already used the Lensa App
If your child has already used the Lensa app, tell them why it is controversial.
Explain that while it’s fun to create stylized portraits of yourself with Lensa, using the app can lead to inappropriate and offensive imagery that isn’t good for their mental health or body image. Lensa may also retain their personal data for an unspecified amount of time, potentially leading to disastrous consequences, especially if the data lands in the wrong hands.
Finally, tell your child that Lensa steals from real artists by sampling their art without their consent. If your child wants a stylized portrait of themselves, you or your child can commission a digital artist.
How to cancel the lensa app and remove your child's personal Information
If you and your child no longer feel comfortable using Lensa, you can help them delete their account by following these steps:
- Go to the Lensa website and log into your child’s account.
- Go to the “My Account” tab at the top of the page.
- Click “Delete Account” in the left-hand menu.
- Read Lensa’s Terms of Service and confirm you and your child understand the consequences of deleting your child’s account.
- Select the “Delete My Account” button.
- Type in your child’s password to confirm the account deletion.
- Lensa will send your child a confirmation email that their account has been deleted.
You can also remove your child’s personal data by contacting Lensa via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or through mail at:
- Prisma Labs, Inc., Suite D2028 440 N Wolfe Rd Sunnyvale, CA 94085 (U.S. office)
- DPOEU LTD, Office 902 Oval Krinou 3 Agios Athanasios 4103 Limassol, Cyprus (office for Lensa’s appointed European Economic Area/United Kingdom representative)
Note that canceling the app on your child’s phone does not delete your child’s account and data. Once your child has created a Lensa account, Lensa will retain their personal data — other than the original videos and photos they uploaded to create Magic Avatars — until they delete their account or request Lensa to delete their data. Lensa will also retain your child’s Magic Avatars until they decide to delete them or request that Lensa delete them.
Unfortunately, deleting an account or requesting data deletion doesn’t always provide your child with adequate protection. If you suspect Lensa has been misusing your child’s data, photos, and videos, we can help you seek justice.
Contact the Social Media Victims Law Center today for a confidential and free assessment of your case.
Matthew P. Bergman