China is cracking down on deepfakes at home while profiting from deepfakes abroad.
Deepfake apps from China-based developers have been downloaded millions of times in the US and are available on the App Store even after China enacted stricter laws this year to regulate deepfake videos on its own internet.
The apps allow Chinese developers to profit from the data and dollars brought in through America’s largely unregulated tech market, while US lawmakers focus on other targets such as TikTok. That scrutiny hasn’t extended to other apps in China, such as online marketplaces Shein and Teemu, which are popular in america and other parts of the world.
Deepfakes are media manipulation, often created with artificial intelligence techniques, in which faces, appearances, and voices are altered. The technology has improved in recent years and has been used to create viral videos, with some warning about the technology’s potential to create misinformation.
But more than anything else, deepfake technology has fueled an online economy focused on creating fake pornography. Sensity, an Amsterdam-based company that detects and monitors AI-developed synthetic media for industries such as banking and fintech, found that 96% of deepfakes are sexually explicit and depict women who are involved in their creation. does not consent to.
An NBC News review of free deepfake apps on Apple’s App Store and Google Play store found that there are more than 17 deepfake apps available to download from companies around the world, including Russia, Ukraine, the UK, the US, Italy and China.
Some of the apps reviewed by NBC News, such as the popular Cyprus-based FaceApp and China-based Facey, do not offer features that allow the production of pornographic videos. Such apps are meant to transform images of faces with preset filters., But other apps specifically market their abilities to create non-consensual deepfake pornography.
One of the China-based apps, Facemagic, is running sexually explicit ads saying “Create deepfake porn in a second” on the most popular deepfake porn website, according to a review of the ads by NBC News. According to data from Apptopia, a company that monitors the app market, it has been downloaded more than 24 lakh times since May 2021.
Another China-based deepfake app, FaceMega, was recently removed from the Apple and Google app stores after NBC News found that it ran more than 260 ads on Facebook that featured Emma Watson’s likeness in a sexually suggestive manner. was shown in nature.
those apps will almost certainly be jailed China’s new deepfake rules, which came into force in January. The rules prohibit deepfakes from being created without the consent of the people whose likeness is being manipulated, and require deepfakes to be labeled as AI-generated.
The US has no such federal law, although some states impose civil penalties for creating non-consensual pornography and deepfakes that reflect political disinformation. Some privacy activists have pushed for new regulations around deepfakes, but most politicians have focused on TikTok instead.
“The way we’re far behind in regulating privacy, I think we’re still in the early stages of determining what regulation we should have around deepfakes,” said Sameer Jain, director of policy at the center. For Democracy and Technology, a nonprofit that advocates for digital rights and free expression.
Concerns about foreign access to US user data through apps have grown in recent years around China and TikTok. Critics of TikTok have argued that it poses an immediate security threat, especially because China could force it to reveal data about its US users.
TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew told a congressional hearing last month that ByteDance, TikTok’s Chinese parent company, was a private company and not controlled by the Chinese government.
“TikTok has never received or received a request to share US user data with the Chinese government,” he said in prepared remarks. “Nor will TikTok honor such a request if one is ever made.”
China, which says it will “firmly oppose” any forced sale of TikTok to the US, says it takes data privacy and security very seriously and the US has provided no evidence that its National security is at risk.
Foreign ministry spokesman Mao Ning said last month, “The Chinese government has never asked any company or individual to collect or provide data, information or intelligence based overseas against local laws.”
A request for comment sent to the Chinese Embassy in the US was not responded to.
Other countries have taken extensive steps to address data privacy issues as well as concerns about the spread of deepfakes. The EU has strict privacy rules that it has enforced against several major tech companies including Amazon, Meta and Google, The EU has also put in place rules to force major tech platforms to do the same. Limit the spread of deepfakes,
None have gone as far as China with its recent deepfake regulations.
“As a center for AI development, China is increasingly seeking to export its vision of AI governance,” said Michael Karanikolas, executive director of the UCLA Institute for Technology Law and Policy. “For all the attention on Chinese apps disrupting the US economy, China is saying we need regulations around this stuff.”
Mary Anne Franks, a law professor and president of the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative, a nonprofit group combating non-consensual porn, said the commercial model of nearly every app operating in the US involves selling user data and that legal vulnerabilities overlap with the legal gray area that allows the deepfake economy to flourish.
Deepfake porn websites have been a growing phenomenon lately, with search interest hitting a historically high level earlier this year.
Franks said, “If the real powers had taken note of this crisis and anticipated that one day the technology would not degenerate and fall apart, we would not be in this situation.”
Franks said there are valid complaints about TikTok, as there are for many other apps. Deepfake apps also collect user data, which can be shared and sold with anyone.
However, this information is not particularly difficult to find. And banning TikTok won’t change much.
“If China is interested in that information, they can buy it freely on the secondary market,” Karanikolas said. “You can ban one app, but it doesn’t really affect the wider problem.”