This article originally appeared on VICE Asia
Deepfakes are a scary concept. Those are edited videos and images that can look and sound so real that many are easily fooled they're legit. And some say they could be dangerous.
Recent disturbing incidents involving the trend include a fake video of Mark Zuckerberg that has the Facebook founder giving an ominous speech about his company’s power. There is also an app that can undress a photo of any woman with just a click of a button. Now, criticism is directed at a new Chinese app called Zao, which has been slammed for its sketchy privacy policies.
Zao went viral almost immediately after launching on Aug. 30. Bloomberg reported that by Sept. 2, it had skyrocketed to the top of app store charts. It was released by the Changsha Shenduronghe Network Technology, a subsidiary of the Chinese company Momo Inc, and allows users to easily swap their faces with anyone in select videos. No prior editing skills required.
By simply taking a series of selfies—moving their mouths and changing facial expressions—people have morphed their faces with actors in shows and movies like Game of Thrones, The Big Bang Theory, Romeo and Juliet, and a slew of Chinese films.
The app’s deepfake software is, as seen above, alarmingly accurate. While some are amused by it, others are wary.
This means the company can easily access and use anything uploaded onto the app. The backlash has gotten so bad that Zao now has a rating of 1.9 out of five stars on the AppStore. “Rubbish, hooligan software,” reads one out of the over 4,000 reviews.
China’s E-Commerce Research Center has even encouraged government authorities to investigate the app. In a statement, it said that the app “violates certain laws and standards set by the nation and the industry.
The Verge also pointed out that because the app is free, its owners are likely “profiting” from the data users enter.
Zao has updated its privacy terms since the criticisms blew up. Now, headshots and videos uploaded by users cannot be used for anything other than to improve the app. If users delete their content, it will be wiped out from the server.
“We understand the concern about privacy,” said the app’s statement on Chinese microblogging site Weibo. “We’ve received the feedback, and will fix the issues that we didn’t take into consideration, which will need a bit of time.”