Whose face is it anyway?
First there was fake news, now there are fake videos
What are they?
Deepfakes are like a video version of face-swap photos you can do on your smartphone, where the face from one person is transplanted on to the body of another. They are carefully blended to create scarily convincing fake videos of people doing and saying things.
Isn’t that really creepy?
Unquestionably. It means if someone got hold of footage of you, they could create a fake video of you doing anything, then publish it online for all to see. All they’d need is the right software, which is now freely available on the internet.
Doesn’t Hollywood already use this technology?
Yes, for many years it has digitally blended actors’ faces using computergenerated effects. But video faceswapping technology has now entered the public domain via a free tool called Fakeapp, which makes it relatively simple to stitch videos together. In some cases the technique has been used just for entertainment – mostly in order to insert the actor Nicolas Cage into other people’s films, if the large number of deepfake videos featuring the actor on Youtube is anything to go by. Watch his ‘performance’ as Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark at www.snipca.com/27287 (pictured below).
So it’s just innocent fun?
Sadly, no. Predictably, face-swapping tech was quickly hijacked by the darker corners of the internet, in particular for inserting celebrities’ faces on to actors in pornographic films.
There are also fears it could be used to spread political disinformation on social media, potentially influencing the outcome of elections. As people become wise to fake news stories, will they start to be fooled instead by fake videos? Imagine the inflammatory lies that could be added to the lips of politicians.
Are there any examples online?
Yes, though not all look as realistic as the Nicolas Cage videos. The Guardian newspaper recently tried to blend Theresa May with Margaret Thatcher, but the results wouldn’t fool anyone (watch it at www.snipca.com/27288). Other videos are more impressive, but have been made for comedic purposes, such as this disturbing fusion of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton ( www.snipca.com/27290, see screenshot above). However, it doesn’t take a criminal mastermind to imagine how certain words coming out of Vladimir Putin’s mouth could spark mayhem online.
How does the technology work?
The name deepfake comes partly from the deep-learning techniques the tools use. In very basic terms, powerful artificial intelligence maps two faces, looking for common features.
What can somebody do if their face is stolen?
Currently, not a great deal. Part of the problem is that it can be hard to remove something once it’s been published online. Most responsible sites, including Youtube and Twitter, have banned pornographic deepfakes, but that doesn’t stop them from popping up elsewhere. It’s almost impossible to take legal action against individuals, especially if the video originated from overseas. Furthermore, it’s unclear where the law stands. Are deepfakes violations of privacy? Or do they defame the individuals who appear? Until more legal certainty is established, expect deepfakes to cause amusement and embarrassment in equal measure.
If someone has footage of you, they could create a fake video of you doing anything