Chinese Face-Swapping App Immediately Goes Viral, Triggering Security and Privacy Concerns

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by Tolu Ajiboye · 3 min read
Chinese Face-Swapping App Immediately Goes Viral, Triggering Security and Privacy Concerns
Photo: Zao / App Store

The Zao app which is capable of swapping faces from video clips shot to the top of the app store shortly after it was released, pulling in millions of downloads. Now, concerns have been raised about possible use of the app for negative propaganda.

A new Chinese mobile deepfake application that allows users very easily swap their faces with any specific faces in any video clip was launched on Friday the 30th of August, 2019. The app, Zao, became an instant success an almost immediately became the most downloaded mobile app on China’s iOS App Store, racking up several million downloads and shooting the app to the top of the store. However, several concerns have been drawn over the app’s infringement of privacy and a host of other violations.

The app employs advanced artificial intelligence (AI) technology, letting users upload a personal picture which then gets super-imposed on already made video clips from music, TV shows, and movies. In just a few seconds, one user created a video where he replaced Hollywood actor Leonardo DiCaprio’s face with that of his, instantly adding himself to the cast of 1997’s Titanic movie. What started as a really fun app now seems to be slowly becoming objectionable.

There are quite a few concerns with Zao. Firstly, the app’s user agreement which compulsorily has to be agreed to, stated that Zao has “free, irrevocable, permanent, transferable, and relicense-able” access to any content generated by all of its users.

This is very similar to issues that sprang up quite recently when FaceApp, an AI-powered face swapping app made by Russia’s Wireless Lab, became an internet sensation. Because of the backlash, Zao has changed this and will no longer have permanent access to content as all deleted content will now be deleted from servers as well.

The company said on its official Weibo account that it will take more things into consideration:

“We understand the concern about privacy. We’ve received the feedback, and will fix the issues that we didn’t take into consideration, which will need a bit of time.”

Another worrying concern is the possible problem with law enforcement and security. The Zao app is so well advanced that the ordinary eye might not immediately notice that a different face has been super-imposed if they have absolutely no knowledge of the app.

This means that security footage can be edited to confuse law enforcement, but also means that conspiracy theorists can very easily rile people up, making them believe someone influential said or did something which was actually done by someone else. Without proper control, Zao could easily render obsolete, all current efforts being done to stem the spread of fake news worldwide.

On the other hand, there are some who are calling for the app to be properly re-purposed for more beneficial functions. These people believe that even the most seemingly dangerous tech can be used positively in the hands of the proper authorities.

At the moment, the negative reviews have now dropped the Zao app all the way down to a 1.9 rating. The Zao app was released by Momo Inc., a firm best known for making a dating app which eventually became a live streaming service. Momo Inc. has been listed on the New York Stock Exchange since 2014 and is currently at $36.18.

It is unclear whether or not the disappointing turn of events will affect the company’s stock, especially as most American markets are currently bleeding as effects of the U.S./China trade war are still being felt. Apple stock (AAPL) for example, lost 1.5% to his $205.70.

In other stock related news, Disney (DIS) is worth $136.31 at press time. It is hoped in many quarters that the upcoming Disney+ launch would kick DIS up a notch. Netflix, now a Disney+ rival is currently at $289.29.

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Tolu Ajiboye
Author Tolu Ajiboye

Tolu is a cryptocurrency and blockchain enthusiast based in Lagos. He likes to demystify crypto stories to the bare basics so that anyone anywhere can understand without too much background knowledge. When he's not neck-deep in crypto stories, Tolu enjoys music, loves to sing and is an avid movie lover.

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