Chinese 'deepfake' app Zao comes under fire over privacy concerns

The app lets users seamlessly swap their face with a celebrity's.

September 3, 2019, 1:44 PM

A new Chinese app that lets users seamlessly swap faces with celebrities gained widespread popularity over the weekend, but quickly drew just as much criticism over privacy concerns.

The app, named Zao, was the most downloaded free app in China’s iOS App Store as of Sept. 1, and has been featured on the worldwide iPhone App Store homepage since its release on Aug. 30, according to App Annie, which tracks app data.

With Zao, users can choose an array of features, including playing “a classic movie with your face” using the “extraordinary face-changing speed,” according to App Annie. It uses “deepfake” technology that is created with artificial intelligence -- technology that has drawn widespread concern over how it can be used.

App users took to social media to post about their own face swap with Zao, with many using shots of Leonardo DiCaprio from his “Titanic” role.

Yet following the app’s viral surge, users began to notice its privacy policy that allegedly gave ZAO permission to use their faces for marketing purposes.

The user agreement said that those who used the app and uploaded their images to ZAO agree to surrender the intellectual property rights to their face, and permit ZAO to use their images for marketing purposes, according to Reuters.

The app has since updated its agreement page and the company said they “thoroughly understand the anxiety people have toward privacy concerns,” Reuters reported.

PHOTO: A woman takes a selfie.
STOCK PHOTO/Getty Images

Zao was pushed out by Changsha Shenduronghe Network Technology Co., which is owned by executives from Momo Inc., a company that created a widely-used dating app in China.

"Deepfake" videos have raised concern over how realistic they look.

One video showed Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg appearing to talk about "control[ling] the future," while another video by Buzzfeed had former President Obama seemingly discussing controversial opinions and spouting out a curse word. The Buzzfeed video, which was done as a PSA, later showed that it was actually actor and director Jordan Peele who was saying the words that looked as though they were coming out of Obama's mouth.