Deepfake app Zao rekindles privacy outcry over face-swapping

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New Delhi | Updated: Sep 03, 2019 1:48 PM

After FaceApp, Zao app has raised the issue of privacy violation again

As the fad of seeing your old self using the FaceApp wanes, the vacuum has now been filled by a new app that went instantly viral in China soon after it was released on August 30. Called Zao, the app uses deepfake AI to allow users swap their faces with characters’ in scenes from movies and shows to bring about uncanny results. But along with the trend, the concerns for user privacy are also growing, amounting to severe backlash that the creators are now facing. As its virality surged, Zao came under the scanner for its controversial privacy policy, first reported by Bloomberg.

A previous version of Zao’s privacy policy mentioned a user agreement that would provide the app developer Changsha Shenduronghe Network Technology with “free, irrevocable, permanent, transferable and relicense-able” rights to the content uploaded by the user. But with the growing outcry, the developer changed the privacy policy to reflect that the uploaded content would only be used either for the improvement of the app or for purposes users have already agreed to while signing up. This is very much similar to FaceApp’s privacy policy that sparked outrage across the world after a million of users succumbed to their desire of seeing their old selves.

The developer is also insisting on the deletion of all the content from the app servers if the user removes it via the app. But this rectification came a little too late. Several users started the campaign of giving bad ratings to the app in China, ultimately leading to China E-Commerce Research Center taking cognisance of the situation, which included scrutiny of the app’s privacy policy. WeChat has also limited the extent of the Zao app within its app in China, following the outrage over user privacy.

A Twitter user Allan Xia posted a video of what the app is capable of doing in its full potential. In the video, a user swaps his face with Leonardo DiCaprio’s in various scenes from his many films. According to Xia, it took under 8 seconds for the app to render all the clips from just a single photograph. But to enhance the results, Bloomberg reports, the app takes the users through steps that ask them to open and close mouth and eyes to measure facial contours to give more realistic results. For now, there are only a handful of clips that can be used – not every video can be face-swapped. These clips have been treated with deepfake AI algorithm to insert users’ face on top of that of actors.

Deepfake AI is essentially an algorithmic human-image synthesis technology, powered by Artificial Intelligence, that can be used to alter (or create) recorded events in videos from the past to something that never happened. For example, the movie clips used in the Zao app feature actors who played the character but their faces can now be overlapped with what user has fed the app with, resulting into video clips that never occurred in the past. The term was made popular after a Reddit user who, in 2017, employed deep learning methods into editing faces of celebrities in a number of videos.

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