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China May Outlaw Deepfake Technology

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Last Saturday, China escalated its fight to combat deepfake technology—an artificial intelligence (AI) technology that can alter photos and videos of people doing or saying things they never did in real life.

Deepfakes could violate a person’s portrait rights, according to the draft law being deliberated by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress. Saturday’s session was the draft’s second review.

“We added the prohibitions because some authorities pointed out that the improper use of AI technology not only damages people’s portrait rights but also harms national security and the public interest,” said Shen Chunyao, a senior legislator of the NPC’s Constitution and Law Committee of the draft, as quoted by China Daily Papolar.com

The online deepfake community doesn’t seem to discriminate in their practice—politicians, celebrities and even regular people who, like the majority of us, have downloaded their own pictures on the internet, have been victims of this technology.


While you’re here, watch this Motherboard video that explains everything you need to know about deepfakes:


In February, a deepfake featuring one of China’s biggest actresses, Yang Mi, became a top trending video on the popular social media platform Weibo. The video is a scene from a 25-year-old episode of a TV drama, with Mi’s face replacing the show’s original actress.

“I remember foreign actresses speaking out against these videos on Instagram. But somehow this is gaining traction in China. I am speechless,” reads a comment from one Weibo user, as quoted by Tech in Asia, in response to the video.

This isn’t nearly as bad as fake porn videos, or fake videos that could alter elections, but it goes to show how realistic deepfake content can be, and how easily it can ruin someone’s life.

Deepfake technology has been rapidly evolving over the years. As the Huffington Post pointed out, in early 2018, Motherboard predicted that automating deepfake software would take a year. In reality, it only took a month. And China is considered by insiders as a “leader” in this technology.

As the push for regulations that not only protect victims of nonconsensual pornography but specifically outlaw deepfakes feels more urgent than ever today, some online platforms have taken the initiative to ban them. Last February, Pornhub announced its ban on AI-generated porn videos, which, according to the site, is in the same category as revenge porn. Twitter followed suit shortly after. In the same month, Reddit suspended r/deepfakes, a subreddit that was dedicated for creating and sharing fake porn videos. At the time before its suspension, the subreddit had over 90,000 subscribers. News publisher Reuters is training its journalists to spot fake content too.

In China, the draft law is likely to go through a third review before lawmakers vote on it. On top of regulating the use of the technology, the draft also calls to protect the personal information of juveniles and orders anyone or any institute that seeks to collect such data, to obtain consent from their guardians.

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