WATCH | With the selfie-editing app Meitu, an anime makeover is just a tap away. But is that a good thing?
What does it take to master the art of the selfie?
Meitu thinks it has the answer.
With the help of heavily stylized filters, virtual cosmetics and other selfie-enhancing functions, users can slim, smooth and brighten their faces.
"The feedback that we've been receiving from our users is that it actually makes them feel more confident to share their photos," Meitu Communications Director Liz Goodno told Circa.
Meitu has been popular in Asia for years and is quickly gaining traction in North America.
The free apps have the power to give anyone a doll-like makeover.
For example, Meitu offers an "auto-beautification" tool that plots out a user's face. The tool uses patented facial recognition and augmented reality technology to apply the most precise retouches suited to the person's face.
The brand launched in China in 2008 and has 23 apps, which are "localized" to meet each market's tech and beauty needs.
"Beauty, and makeup, is a very cultural experience," Goodno said.
The company's goal is to build a global, mobile beauty ecosystem.
Meitu made its public debut on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange in December, marking one of the largest tech IPOs in the region in close to a decade. But Meitu has also made headlines lately over concerns about users' data security.
Security experts have pointed out that Meitu, which is available on the Apple Store and Google Play, requires users provide more data than is typically needed by photo-editing apps.
Meitu isn't alone in asking for data in exchange of free downloads, but it is eerie.
In a statement to TechCrunch, Meitu said it does not sell user data and that the "sole purpose for collecting the data is to optimize app performance, its effects and features and to better understand our consumer engagement with in-app advertisements."
But as TechCrunch notes, "privacy-conscious users might want to think twice about the data they let apps collect."
In spite of worries, Meitu's apps have been installed over one billion times. "Meitu is very aggressively globalizing," Goodno said.
Meitu's apps also generate 6 billion posts per month worldwide.
Of the thousands of photo-editing apps out there, few claim to "beautify" like Meitu does.
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With its sharp focus on improving appearances, it raises the question of whether Meitu is indirectly contributing to a more superficial issue.
“If you can manipulate your image, it just reinforces this idea that you're not achieving an ideal of beauty that you should be achieving," Alissa Haedt-Matt, psychology professor at the Illinois Institute of Technology, told Circa. "And that could potentially be damaging."
Recent research by Common Sense Media shows kids as young as five are concerned about body image.
"It might increase their self-confidence, but that's purely in their online presence. It doesn't increase their confidence about how they actually look in real life," Haedt-Matt said.
It's not clear to what extent social media and the selfie culture impact body image, but they do leave a mark.
As Meitu sees it, its apps help you better express yourself. "Women wearing makeup ... they're hiding imperfections. We all do it," Goodno said. "With these apps, it's just a digital way of expressing yourself."