Deepfakes – algorithmically synthesized face-swapping or mimicking videos – are frequently discussed as a dystopian tool that allows almost anyone on the internet to lay words into someone's mouth or put anyone's face into rather objectionable circumstances. Fortunately, deepfakes are rather easily detected at the moment, and thus not too dangerous in the grand scheme of things. Instead, if used correctly, deepfakes can apparently be rather fun. The recently released Chinese Android and iOS app ZAO allows almost anyone to insert themselves into famous movie scenes, requiring nothing more than at least one picture. As with FaceApp before it, privacy concerns quickly arose.
ZAO's workflow is simple enough: You take a selfie, which is used to replace an actor's face in a selection of well-known movies and series. Your face even replicates the original performer's expressions, though it's sometimes looking like some kind of creepy mask. The results are still pretty impressive for a freely available service calculating images within a couple of seconds, as you can see in the embedded tweet below.
In case you haven't heard, #ZAO is a Chinese app which completely blew up since Friday. Best application of 'Deepfake'-style AI facial replacement I've ever seen.
Here's an example of me as DiCaprio (generated in under 8 secs from that one photo in the thumbnail) 🤯 pic.twitter.com/1RpnJJ3wgT
— Allan Xia (@AllanXia) September 1, 2019
The app quickly garnered negative press focusing on privacy concerns in heavily surveilled China, of all places. Reporters cited the user agreement, which gives the company behind ZAO the right to use any imagery created on the app for free and for all purposes, with no option to retreat from the consent once accepted. ZAO has since responded and updated the agreement, writing that it changed the controversial passages and that it would remove any user-deleted content from its servers, too. The question remains how liable the company can be held for potential violations, though – businesses based in China have historically been treated rather laxly about infringements of any kind. Other concerns revolve around malicious actors creating imagery for smear campaigns or to fool facial recognition systems, which ZAO assures wouldn't be possible with its service.
If you'd like to try the app for yourself, you won't find it on the Play Store, since it's mainly marketed towards China. It's only available for sideloading through Huawei's AppGallery or Oppo's and Vivo's stores. With the privacy issues in mind, you might want to hold off from it, though.