The Lensa AI App: What You Need to Know

The Lensa AI App: What You Need to Know: There is celebration on social media. Artists are protesting. What do AI-generated portraits cost in the real world?

Through Lensa, an app that utilizes machine learning to create illustrations based on photos you provide, millions have experienced AI-generated versions of themselves this week. There has been a significant amount of discussion on social media regarding the portraits — and who stands to lose when artificial intelligence art becomes mainstream.

In late November, Prisma Labs launched Lens, a photo and video editing app for the Mac and Windows operating system, which has been around since 2018, but its worldwide download numbers increased drastically, according to an analysis by the analytics firm Sensor Tower, after its “magic avatars” feature was released. In the first five days of December, this app saw 4 million downloads compared to 2 million in November, and it shot to the top of the app stores in both Apple and Google. Consumers spent an estimated $8.2 million on the app in that five-day period.

There is an extra charge of $3 to $12 for avatar packs, but the app is a subscription-based one and costs $35.99 a year. To train a machine learning model, Lensa needs eight to ten photos of you with your face filling up most of the frame and no one else in the picture. Using the model, you can generate an image of your face based on different artistic styles, such as “anime” or “fairy princess” based on your face.

During the upload process of Lensa’s app, Lensa warns users about the possibility that their images will have garbled facial features or limbs sticking out of their heads, an outcome that may occur. A lot of people seemed to enjoy the flattering or accurate portraits.

It’s also important to note that the trend has raised concerns about the equity of AI-generated images, the effects on professional artists, as well as the risk of sexual exploitation. Here is everything you need to know before you download.


Who made Lensa?

Prisma Labs, based in Sunnyvale, Calif., owns Lensa and also makes a photo app called Prisma that uses artificial intelligence to duplicate photos in a variety of artistic styles. It appears that both Prisma Labs CEO and co-founder Alexey Moiseenkov had previously worked for the Russian technology giant Yandex, according to their LinkedIn profiles.

What else does Lensa do?

There is a series of photo and video editing tools available with Lensa, much like its competitor Facetune, including tools that allow you to do anything from replace your cluttered living room with an artsy backdrop to remove those eye bags.

The Lensa AI App
Lensa AI App

How does Lensa create AI avatars?

There is a free machine learning model that is used by Lensa called Stable Diffusion, which was trained using billions of images and text scraped from the web and used to train Lensa. Using this app, you upload your photos to a cloud storage and then the app spins up a machine learning model tailored to your specific needs. That machine learning model then creates new images based on your likeness.

Is it possible that the images will look like me in them?

A lot depends on how you look at your avatar. Some users who have dark skin have experienced more glitches and distortions in their avatars than their light skind friends, reinforcing long-standing concerns about the equity of AI imaging. The AI portraits of Asians and people who wear hijabs were inaccurate as well, and people who posted them on Twitter were also inaccurate.

It is believed that AI models do worse when they analyze and reproduce images of dark-skinned people due to the lack of representation of dark-skinned people in AI engineering and training images, says Mutale Nkonde, the founder of algorithmic justice organization AI for the People, as a result of the lack of representation of dark-skinned people in AI engineering and training images. Whenever facial recognition is used by law enforcement, for instance, it presents a frightening opportunity for discrimination as well. At least three Black men have already been wrongfully arrested as a result of the technology.

Lensa also has the potential to be harmful, Nkonde noted. From what she’s seen, Lensa’s results for women tend to revolve around what she refers to as “generic hot white girls.”

As a result, Black women and girls could suffer from very damaging self-esteem issues, as she stated. “Black women are looking at this picture and thinking, ‘Huh. I love that picture. But, it doesn’t look like me. What am I supposed to do about that?’”

Some trans people celebrated the opportunity to be able to see a gender-affirming version of themselves in Lensa since it lets you choose your avatar’s gender – including a nonbinary option.

Always Read the Privacy Policy

Getting an understanding of what your data will be used for, especially if it is sensitive data, is very important before diving into the app. Before diving in, please take a moment to read through the app’s privacy policy and terms of use. As long as our biometric data is being used for any purpose, we must always be aware of what is happening. “I think we should be extra cautious about how that data is being used,” says David Leslie, who is the director of ethics and responsible innovation research at the Alan Turing Institute and a professor at Queen Mary University.

A spokesperson for Prisma Labs, Andrey Usoltsev, the company’s CEO, claimed in an email to WIRED that the company has already begun working on updating their privacy policy. The lens uses a copy of the Stable Diffusion model, which is used to teach the lens to recognize the faces on uploaded images in each case. According to Usoltsev, “Each individual user has a different model,” which means the user’s photos will be deleted from our servers as soon as avatars have been generated. The servers are located in the United States.

As much as it is impossible to know exactly how a company is using and storing your data without an independent evaluation, this statement is a step in the right direction. However, it is also important to keep in mind that uploads are only a small part of the larger picture.

There are more security implications than just your uploaded images

You may initially be concerned about biometrics, but you should also be aware of the amount of additional data that can be collected automatically by your smartphone. To gather information on you, Lensa may rely on third-party analytics, log file information, device identifiers, or registered user information. Please refer to section 3 of our privacy policy for more information. 

Users are able to opt out of the data collection process by contacting Lensa directly at In the event that you use an iOS device, you have the option to opt out of the data collection process by going into your privacy settings. To be fair, it’s not just Lensa: It seems that every app on your phone collects more information than you realize. If Lensa is acquired in the future, the data may well change hands even if you decide to trust it with your personal data. The Electronic Privacy Information Center, which houses its AI and human rights projects, claims that “this is especially true when it comes to bigger companies that are much more adept at bullshitting around how they talk about it,” says Ben Winters, the center’s lead on AI and human rights programs.

Don’t Import Pictures of Children or Nudity

If you use Lensa to generate images of children or nudity, you are breaking the terms of use of the service. The app can still generate hypersexual results, even if you don’t input nudes; it will also ascribe cartoonish sexualized features to your image, such as sultry poses and enormous breasts, if you don’t input nudes. As an example, I received several completely nude results despite uploading just a headshot, writes WIRED contributor Olivia Snow. Snow uploaded her childhood photos to the app and the app produced disturbing images as a result, taking what would have been stylized memories and turning them into dehumanizing images. Usoltsev states, “Since this feature is not designed for minors, we advise against using any images of children,”.

“Lensa can also produce sexual images of adults without their consent,” Leslie says, stating that it may be the result of an insufficient amount of forethought put into protecting the dignity of individuals. Whenever technology can harm, we are responsible for doing everything in our power to anticipate those impacts.”

Consider the Larger Impact for Real Artists

It is true that some artists embrace the possibility of generative AI as a way to produce fascinating results. However, others remain much less confident about what could potentially happen with it. According to Leslie, the commercialization of these image generators will have a significant impact on the ability of artists to remain sustainable over the long term. 

Even though it is more expensive, those who are able to afford it might want to consider commissioning smaller artists to create digital pieces for their new profile picture, phone wallpaper, or portrait, even if it is a more expensive option. There are a lot of artists on Instagram and Twitter who have a variety of styles that you cannot get from generative AI, and many of them are willing to take commissions. Getting something truly unique and personalized at a nominal price is possible. It is even possible to support a local artist by going to your local art center and asking around.

After that, try deleting the app from your phone

If you have considered all of the above and decide to purchase a pack of “magic avatars,” you can then check out Lensa’s editing capabilities after saving your colorful creations. Would you like to use this app frequently, or is it just another app that will accumulate digital dust on your smartphone? Winters recommends to anyone concerned about data collection that you control the settings, delete them after each use, and exercise all your rights. 


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