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Facebook and Instagram’s cartoon avatar craze: How to do it (and a look at the privacy rules)

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Voila AI Artist is the latest cartoon craze going around Facebook, Instagram and more. It’s free on iPhone and Android.


Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

I’ve tried my fair share of cartoon avatars, from the very first Yahoo Messenger avatar I ever used, to Bitmoji stickers. There’s something I find deeply and irresistibly compelling about seeing myself represented in cartoon form, as if the cartoon has the power to capture my core essence while outstretching a more playful version of myself. When I first saw Voila AI Artist’s version pop up in my Facebook feed, suffusing friends of all ages with an inner glow and supersize eyes quivering with emotion, my eyes went as wide as the cherubic rendering before me. I had to try it out for myself.

Creations from Voila AI Artist — an app that seemingly popped up out of nowhere — have mushroomed across my Facebook feed and proliferate on Instagram and WhatsApp as well. (Both are owned by Facebook.) The app starts with a photo of your face and renders it into three different cartoon styles to choose from, complete with shading. “Disney” is the adjective that’s popped up most often when friends and coworkers see my avatar. In addition to the cartoon rendering, you’re also able to see yourself from the eyes of Renaissance painters and create a caricature of your mug (or someone else’s). 

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Voila AI Artist is free for iPhone and Android, with a premium ad-free option as well (more on that, and on the app’s privacy policy, below). At any rate, it took less than five minutes to download the app and make my first cartoon grid. I also learned a few things along the way. Here’s how to do it and what to know.

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My cousin’s Viola AI Artist photos, which sparked it all. Shared with permission.


Screenshot by Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

How to make yourself a cartoon avatar with Voila AI Artist

Step 1: Download Voila AI Artist for iPhone or Android and launch the app. It will ask for permission to use your phone’s camera roll.

Step 2: Select from among the four styles: 3D Cartoon (what I used here), Renaissance, 2D Cartoon and Caricature. Tap the arrow to begin.

Step 3: Your camera roll is now open. Select the photo you want to use, or tap Camera or Celebrities at the bottom of the screen to take a new picture or to search for celebrities. This generates a grid of four options. On the free version, expect to see an ad or two interrupt your view. After a few beats, you can X out the ad and return to your images.

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Step 4: You’ll see four options — the composite grid of your original photo plus your three cartoon renderings and all three renderings (Royalty 3D, Baby 3D and Cartoon 3D). You can either take a screenshot from here and crop it down, or select any of the four options and click the edit button — an up arrow on Android — to immediately share on Facebook, Instagram or WhatsApp, or to email, save or share through other options (when you press More).

To remove the watermark, speed up the rendering process and remove the ads you see each time you render, you could update to the Voila Pro version for $2 per week, $4 per month or $21 a year — the price at the time of writing. There’s a free, three-day trial with that option.

What doesn’t work well with Voila AI Artist

  • Nonhumans, such as dogs or cats
  • Images where the app says faces can’t be detected
  • Images of cut-off heads often work, but with an odd halo the app fills in

How does Viola AI Artist use my data? A look at the privacy statement

From what we can tell, although the app’s parent company says it will delete your photos 24 to 48 hours after the photo was last used by the app, it does collect personally identifying information about you, your phone and your activity online. 

It then shares that personal data with third-party partners and advertisers in countries outside your own, including advertisers that may track your activity across the web. The app also discloses your personal information to any of its sibling companies, affiliates or subcontractors. 

According to the privacy policy from app owner WeImagine.AI:

“When you use the free version of the App, we work with advertising partners to display advertisements within the App. These advertisements are delivered by our advertising partners and may be targeted based on your use of the App or your activity elsewhere online.”

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CNET has reached out to WeImagine.Ai for comment and clarification.

CNET’s Rae Hodge contributed to this story.

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Facebook-Meta Earns the ‘Worst Company of 2021’ Title in This Survey

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Facebook has had its share of controversies this year. The company was under more scrutiny after whistleblower Frances Haugen leaked a series of internal documents.

Facebook parent Meta has been named the Worst Company of the Year (2021) by Yahoo Finance respondents. According to the publication, an “open-ended” survey was published on Yahoo Finance on December 4 and 5, where 1,541 respondents participated. Facebook received 8 percent of the write-in vote, but respondents were seemingly mad about the Robinhood trading app as well. Electric truck startup Nikola, which was named last year’s worst company by the same publication also faced respondents ire.

Yahoo Finance notes, “Facebook has had its share of controversies this year.” Starting in January, Meta-owned WhatsApp got caught up in a huge controversy after the messaging app announced a new privacy policy (Terms of Service). WhatsApp said it would collect user information and share it with third-party apps for a better user experience. However, the app gave users no choice but later made modifications to the policy under pressure. Similarly, the company was under more scrutiny after whistleblower and former Facebook employee Frances Haugen leaked a series of internal documents showing the company’s problematic practices. It was revealed that Meta-owned Instagram had a negative impact on teenage girls, but the company did almost nothing to rectify the problem.

Yahoo Finance even highlights, “At the same time, some critics, including conservatives, say Facebook over-policed the platform’s speech and stifled their voices.” Critics also blame Facebook and other social media platforms for not curbing hate speech that led to Capitol Building riots.

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However, around 30 percent of Yahoo Finance readers said that Facebook or Meta could redeem itself. One respondent suggested that the company could issue a formal apology for negligence and donate a sizable amount of its profits to a foundation to help reverse its harm.

On the other hand, respondents chose Microsoft as the Company of the Year (2021). The Satya Nadella-led company touched the trillion-mark this year and introduced notable upgrades. The most notable is the Windows 11 OS update that succeeds Windows 10.

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Facebook pays 1.7 Cr fine to Russia after failing to delete content Moscow deems illegal

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In the latest legal tussle with Russia over controversial social media regulation laws, Facebook paid 17 million roubles (Rs 1.7 Crore) for failing to remove content deemed illegal by Moscow. With a threat of potential larger fines looming, Facebook parent company Meta, owned by Mark Zuckerberg, is scheduled to face court next week over repeated violations of Russian legislation on content, Interfax News Agency reported. As per the latest updates, the social media giant could be fined a percentage of its annual revenue.

In October, Moscow sent state bailiffs to enforce the collection of 17 million roubles. Meanwhile, as per Interfax report citing a federal bailiffs’ database, on Sunday, there were more enforcement proceedings against the company. Apart from the popular social media app, Telegram has also paid 15 million roubles in fines for failing to comply with the Russian social media legislations that came into force in 2016.

Facebook pays $53k to Russia for refusing controversial social media laws

It is pertinent to mention that Facebook has locked horns with Moscow earlier in November, resulting in it paying 4 million roubles ($53,000) over its refusal to adhere to Russian data localisation laws, the Moscow Times reported. The Moscow court on November 25 had said that Facebook paid the fine levied in February, following which all proceedings against the US-based social media giant. The payment comes against the litigation filed against the company in 2018, alongside Twitter. The tech companies were also forced to pay an additional 3000 rubles ($40) for failing to comply with user data sharing rules as per the law. The Russian authorities have also previously blocked LinkedIn, owned by Microsoft, for failing to abide by the laws.

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Russian social media laws

As per Moscow Times, under the Russian social media regulation laws, all foreign technology companies are required to store data related to Russian customers and users on servers located in Russia. Additionally, the Russian tech companies will also have to share encryption data with the federal authorities as well as record user calls, messages and civil society group conversation records. The apparatus is said to be a severe breach of privacy rights and unfettered back-door access to personal data that could be used to harass Kremlin critics.

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Facebook Messenger Is Launching a Split Payments Feature for Users to Quickly Share Expenses

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Facebook Messenger Is Launching a Split Payments Feature for Users to Quickly Share Expenses

Meta has announced the arrival of a new Split Payments feature in Facebook Messenger. This feature, as the name suggests, will let you calculate and split expenses with others right from Facebook Messenger. This feature essentially looks to bring an easier method to share the cost of bills and expenses — for example, splitting a dinner bill with friends. Using this new Split Payment feature, Facebook Messenger users will be able to split bills evenly or modify the contribution for each individual, including their own.

The company took to its blog post to announce the new Split Payment feature in Facebook Messenger. 9to5Mac reports that this new bill splitting feature is still in beta and will be exclusive to US users at first. The rollout will begin early next week. As mentioned, it will help users share the cost of bills, expenses, and payments. This feature is especially useful for those who share an apartment and need to split the monthly rent and other expenses with their mates. It could also come handy at a group dinner with many people.

With Split Payments, users can add the number of people the expense needs to be divided with and, by default, the amount entered will be divided in equal parts. A user can also modify each person’s contribution including their own. To use Split Payments, click the Get Started button in a group chat or the Payments Hub in Messenger. Users can modify the contribution in the Split Payments option and send a notification to all the users who need to make payments. After entering a personalised message and confirming your Facebook Pay details, the request will be sent and viewable in the group chat thread.

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Once someone has made the payment, you can mark their transaction as ‘completed’. The Split Payment feature will automatically take into account your share as well and calculate the amount owed accordingly.


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Tasneem Akolawala is a Senior Reporter for Gadgets 360. Her reporting expertise encompasses smartphones, wearables, apps, social media, and the overall tech industry. She reports out of Mumbai, and also writes about the ups and downs in the Indian telecom sector. Tasneem can be reached on Twitter at @MuteRiot, and leads, tips, and releases can be sent to tasneema@ndtv.com.

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