Tuesday , February 7 2023

Vietnamese spending money on AI-powered drawing apps


AI-powered apps capable of turning real photos into digitized ones are frequently being downloaded in Vietnam, despite bugs in the apps and inherent risks to privacy and personal data.

Dinh Thu, who lives in Hanoi, first learned about the AI drawing app FacePlay after her friends on social media shared their AI-generated pictures online. Thu said she felt excited to see people in real photos being turned into digitized characters.

The app, which has been popular in Vietnam since last year thanks to its capacity to turn faces in photos into anime or digitized art, became popular again recently thanks to its new AI painting function, which was advertised to be able to draw comic-like characters and backgrounds. On application stores, the program has frequently made the list of most downloaded apps in Vietnam since earlier this month.

However, FacePlay isn’t free. It requires users to sign up for accounts, with subscription packages running from US$3.49 a week to $29.99 a year.

“The most interesting part is that you can turn your and your friends’ photos into pictures similar to those found in comic books after a few seconds,” said Thu. “If I hire someone else to draw that, the service would not be available at such prices, and it would take a long time to be completed.”

However, some users are reporting technical problems with the apps.

Thu decided to go for the week-long trial subscription package to see how the app worked. But after a few trials, she canceled her subscription and deleted the app. She says she made the right choice by purchasing the lowest-priced trial subscription package.

“The app provided plenty of choices regarding drawing styles, but there were not many differences in the finished product,” she said.

And she says the program was buggy. “The app frequently recognized the wrong context,” said Thu, sharing one example when she wanted it to draw a man carrying his daughter on his neck, but she received a painting of a man wearing a scarf with a woman standing behind him.

“But I only knew that once I’d already paid for it.”

An AI-generated photo that greatly differs from the original photo. Photo by VnExpress/Luu Quy

An AI-generated photo that greatly differs from the original photo. Photo by VnExpress/Luu Quy

“The app requires an Internet connection, but there were usually connectivity issues,” she said. “Many sections had not been properly translated and were still in Chinese. The pictures are AI-generated, and so one cannot interfere with the end results. And even though it was advertised as AI-powered, a second image generation would produce the same result.”

On the App Store and the Play Store, several users left negative reviews of FacePlay regarding bugs and the fact that there was no free trial. Some even shared tips regarding how to cancel their subscriptions to avoid being charged further.

Another popular app, Lensa AI, was said to focus too much on certain parts of women’s bodies, creating sexualized images that differed too much from the original photographs. In some cases, the app erased certain racial features by changing face shapes and eye colors.

Lensa AI: Photo & Video Editor was once in the most-downloaded app section on the App Store in Vietnam. The app required users to upload 10-20 photos of themselves, after which the algorithms process the images to produce digitized portraits in different art styles. Users are required to pay subscriptions of up to US$29.99 a year to use the app.

According to a Sensor Tower report, in the first five days of December, Lensa was installed around 4 million times worldwide and had earned $8.2 million.

Many other AI-powered apps have been on the rise recently in Vietnam. In the Graphic Design category on the App Store, there are plenty of other apps branded as AI-powered that can turn photographs into digitized pieces of art and they are sometimes included in the most-downloaded section of the store, such as Dawm, Namesake, Wonder and AI Art. Most of them require payments.

Although these AI apps have several selling points, such as quick image generation and lower prices compared to commissioned artwork, they also harbor risks regarding personal data, privacy. These apps require access to the phone’s camera, photo gallery and some require the device’s ID and location.

Andrey Usoltsev, CEO and co-founder of Prisma Labs, which developed Lensa, said a functionality that allows users to delete their photos on the app 24 hours after uploading them has been introduced.

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