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Prisma’s new AI-powered app, Lensa, helps the selfie camera lie

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Prisma Labs, the startup behind the style transfer craze of a couple of years ago, has a new AI-powered iOS app for retouching selfies. An Android version of the app — which is called Lensa — is slated as coming in January.

It bills Lensa as a “one-button Photoshop”, offering a curated suite of photo-editing features intended to enhance portrait photos — including teeth whitening; eyebrow tinting; ‘face retouch’ which smooths skin tone and texture (but claims to do so naturally); and ‘eye contrast’ which is supposed to make your eye color pop a bit more (but doesn’t seem to do too much if, like me, you’re naturally dark eyed).

There’s also a background blur option for adding a little bokeh to make your selfie stand out from whatever unattractive clutter you’re surrounded by — much like the portrait mode that Apple added to iOS two years ago.

Lensa can also correct for lens distortion, such as if a selfie has been snapped too close. “Our algorithm reconstructs face in 3D and fixes those disproportions,” is how it explains that.

The last slider on the app’s face menu offers this feature, letting you play around with making micro-adjustments to the 3D mesh underpinning your face. (Which feels as weird to see as it sounds to type.)

Of course there’s no shortage of other smartphone apps out there on stores — and/or baked right into smartphones’ native camera apps — offering to ‘beautify’ selfies.

But the push-button pull here is that Lensa automatically — and, it claims, professionally — performs AI-powered retouching of your selfie. So you don’t have to do any manual tweaking yourself (though you also can if you like).

If you just snap a selfie you’ll see an already enhanced version of you. Who said the camera never lies? Thanks AI…

Prisma Labs’ new app, Lensa, uses machine learning to automagically edit selfies

Lensa also lets you tweak visual parameters across the entire photo, as per a standard photo-editing app, via an ‘adjust’ menu — which (at launch) offers sliders for: Exposure, contrast, saturation, plus fade, sharpen; temperature, tint; highlights, shadows.

While Lensa is free to download, an in-app subscription (costing $4.99 per month) can let you get a bit more serious about editing its AI-enhanced selfies — by unlocking the ability to adjust all those parameters across just the face; or just the background.

Prisma Labs says that might be useful if, for example, you want to fix an underexposed selfie shot against a brighter background.

“Lensa utilizes a bunch of Machine Learning algorithms to precisely extract face skin from the image and then retouching portraits like a professional artist,” is how it describes the app, adding: “The process is fully automated, but the user can set up an intensity level of the effect.”

The startup says it’s drawn on its eponymous style transfer app for Lensa’s machine learning as the majority of photos snapped and processed in Prisma are selfies — giving it a relevant heap of face data to train the photo-editing algorithms.

Having played around with Lensa I can say its natural looking instant edits are pretty seductive — in that it’s not immediately clear algorithmic fingers have gone in and done any polishing. At a glance you might just think oh, that’s a nice photo.

On closer inspection you can of course see the airbrushing that’s gone on but the polish is applied with enough subtly that it can pass as naturally pleasing.

And natural edits is one of the USP’s Prisma Labs is claiming for Lensa. “Our mission is to allow people to edit a portrait but keep it looking natural,” it tells us. (The other key feature it touts is automation, so it’s selling the time you’ll save not having to manually tweak your selfies.)

Anyone who suffers from a chronic skin condition might view Lensa as a welcome tool/alternative to make-up in an age of the unrelenting selfies (when cameras that don’t lie can feel, well, exhausting).

But for those who object to AI stripping even skin-deep layers off of the onion of reality, Lensa’s subtle algorithmic fiddling might still come over as an affront.

This report was updated with a correction after Prisma told us it had decided to remove watermarks and ads from the free version of the app so it is not necessary to pay for a subscription to remove them

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AT&T failed to fix Ohio man’s broken Internet service for a month

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Ohio resident John Sopko had to go a month without his AT&T fixed wireless Internet service because the company repeatedly failed to diagnose and fix the problem, the Akron Beacon Journal reported today. AT&T finally figured out this week that the antenna on Sopko’s roof was broken and had to be replaced, but not until after a parade of support calls and technician visits.

Sopko said he isn’t a big Internet user but that his girlfriend and her 17-year-old son are. The son has “been at his grandmother’s since four days after [the outage] started because he needs it for school,” Sopko said. Sopko’s house is either in or near an area where AT&T received US government funding to deploy service.

Sopko’s service stopped working on October 30. Rebooting the modem did nothing, so he called AT&T’s service phone number and “followed directions to reboot the system.” That again did nothing, so AT&T sent a technician to his home in Akron, but the tech just repeated the steps that Sopko had already taken, according to the report:

“He went and turned everything off and plugged it back in,” Sopko said. Same result—no connection.

AT&T sent out a second technician, on Nov. 8. “He did the same thing,” Sopko said. “He said it was an engineering problem and was going to send an email.”

More frustration, no explanation from AT&T

Sopko didn’t hear back from AT&T, so he called the company again a couple of days after the second technician visit, the Beacon Journal article said. “They said they were ‘troubleshooting’ and said it would be back up in a couple of hours,” he told the newspaper.

The service did not come back online within a couple of hours, and Sopko said he had to “chase them down” again because AT&T didn’t call him back. He was eventually able to schedule a technician appointment for November 23. But on that day, “he received another text, confirming an appointment for Nov. 26. A text on Nov. 26 confirmed an appointment for 2 pm to 4 pm. Sopko said he may not have responded in time to that text, so a new appointment was set for Dec. 3,” the newspaper reported.

The Beacon Journal report continued:

Sopko called the service line again on Nov. 26, talking to a customer representative. “I don’t want to be mean to you,” he told the representative. “But this has been going on for 28 days now. Why?”

The representative couldn’t give a solid answer, which frustrated Sopko even more. “I’m buying a product that I can’t use,” he said. “Tell me lightning hit a tower; tell me something.”

AT&T’s government funding

Finally, Sopko was contacted on Tuesday of this week by an AT&T rep, and the company sent what Sopko called a “more advanced technician” to his house on Wednesday. The technician tested the antenna, found it wasn’t working, and replaced it.

“That ‘antenna’ was a fixed wireless unit the company had installed about a year and a half before. The units are primarily used in rural areas where cable lines aren’t in place,” the Beacon Journal noted.

Ohio is one of 18 states where AT&T received $428 million from the Federal Communications Commission per year for seven years starting in 2015 to deploy 10Mbps Internet using fixed wireless technology to 1.1 million homes and small businesses. It’s not clear whether Sopko’s home is counted in that deployment, but his address on East Voris Street is very close to other Akron properties where the FCC map shows subsidized deployment by AT&T.

AT&T still trying to “determine what happened”

Sopko “received a bill on Tuesday for a month’s service he didn’t get” but later received bill credits “and a gift card for his troubles,” the Beacon Journal reported. AT&T told the newspaper that “our technicians restored Mr. Sopko’s Internet service and he is satisfied.”

We asked AT&T for an explanation of why it took a month to diagnose and fix the problem. The company didn’t explain but said it is looking into the matter.

“Clearly, this is not an acceptable customer experience and did not meet our expectations for how we serve our customers,” AT&T told Ars today. “We have apologized to Mr. Sopko and credited his account. We are reviewing this case to determine what happened and to prevent it from happening again.”

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iPhones of US diplomats hacked using “0-click” exploits from embattled NSO

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The iPhones of nine US State Department officials were infected by powerful and stealthy malware developed by NSO Group, the Israeli exploit seller that has come under increasing scrutiny for selling its wares to journalists, lawyers, activists, and US allies.

The US officials, either stationed in Uganda or focusing on issues related to that country, received warnings like this one from Apple informing them their iPhones were being targeted by hackers. Citing unnamed people with knowledge of the attacks, Reuters said the hackers used software from NSO.

No clicking required

As previously reported, NSO software known as Pegasus uses exploits sent through messaging apps that infect iPhones and Android devices without requiring targets to click links or take any other action. From there, the devices run hard-to-detect malware that can download photos, contacts, text messages, and other data. The malware also allows the operator to listen to audio and view video in real time.

NSO has long come under fire for selling its wares to governments hostile to journalists and dissidents. Facebook sued NSO in 2019 after Pegasus was discovered to have used the company’s WhatsApp to infect the iPhones of 36 journalists. Last month, Apple sued NSO after learning Pegasus infected 37 iPhones belonging to journalists, human rights activists, and business executives. Critics said the targets didn’t meet the criteria NSO says is required for its powerful spyware to be used. Also last month the Biden administration’s Commerce Department blocked the export, re-export and in-country transfer of NSO technology.

An NSO spokesperson said in a statement that after learning of the allegations by Reuters, it immediately terminated the responsible customer’s access to its system while it looks into the matter. NSO officials wrote:

On top of the independent investigation, NSO will cooperate with any relevant government authority and present the full information we will have. To clarify, the installation of our software by the customer occurs via phone numbers. As stated before, NSO’s technologies are blocked from working on US (+1) numbers. Once the software is sold to the licensed customer, NSO has no way to know who the targets of the customers are, as such, we were not and could not have been aware of this case.

Reuters said that while the iPhones targeted in this case were all registered to overseas numbers, the target’s affiliation with the US government was obvious because they all used Apple IDs that were associated with email addresses ending in state.gov. The news outlet said the actions taken against the State Department officials “represent the widest known hacks of US officials through NSO technology.”

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Ransomware attack on Planned Parenthood steals data of 400,000 patients

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Ransomware hackers broke into a Planned Parenthood network and accessed medical records or other sensitive data for more than 400,000 patients of the reproductive health care group.

The disclosure came in a sample letter posted to the California attorney general’s website and a release published by the organization. Both said that the intrusion and data theft was limited to patients of Planned Parenthood’s Los Angeles chapter. Organization personnel first noticed the hack on October 17 and conducted an investigation.

“The investigation determined that an unauthorized person gained access to our network between
October 9, 2021 and October 17, 2021, and exfiltrated some files from our systems during that time,” the letter stated. It went on to say: “On November 4, 2021, we identified files that contained your name and one or more of the following: address, insurance information, date of birth, and clinical information, such as diagnosis, procedure, and/or prescription information.”

The release said that the intruder “installed malware/ransomware and exfiltrated some files from its systems during that time.” The organization said it has no evidence the stolen data has been used for fraudulent purposes. Planned Parenthood of Los Angeles spokesman John Erickson didn’t respond to a question asking if the organization could rule out that possibility.

Ransomware has become a scourge that hits both Fortune 500 firms and small nonprofits alike. The criminals behind the attacks routinely extort money, with the threat to not only lock up victims’ computer networks, but also to leak sensitive data online if the ransom goes unpaid. There are no reports of any of the Planned Parenthood data being published.

In May, hackers hit Colonial Pipeline with a ransomware attack that caused disruptions in gasoline distribution in the southeastern United States. A few weeks later, JBS SA, the world’s biggest meat producer, suffered a ransomware attack that shut down operations at five of the biggest JBS beef plants in the US. A Canadian JBS beef plant that processes almost a third of the country’s federally inspected cattle was also shut down.

Nonprofit organizations, meanwhile, have also been menaced by ransomware, with hospitals, homeless shelters, and community groups all in the crosshairs. Earlier this year, data belonging to a Planned Parenthood chapter in the District of Columbia was also held for ransom.

Word of the latest Planned Parenthood attack comes as the availability of abortions in many states has come under threat in state legislatures. The US Supreme Court on Wednesday heard oral arguments in a case challenging the constitutionality of a Mississippi law that effectively bans the procedure after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

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