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Deepfakes porn has serious consequences

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Dave Lee North America technology reporter, BBC
 

In recent weeks there has been an explosion in what has become known as deepfakes: pornographic videos manipulated so that the original actress' face is replaced with somebody else's.

As these tools have become more powerful and easier to use, it has enabled the transfer of sexual fantasies from people's imaginations to the internet. It flies past not only the boundaries of human decency, but also our sense of believing what we see and hear.

Beyond its use for hollow titillation, the sophistication of the technology could bring about serious consequences. The fake news crisis, as we know it today, may only just be the beginning.

Several videos have already been made involving President Trump's face, and while they are obvious spoofs it's easy to imagine the effect being produced for propaganda purposes.

As is typical, institutions and companies have been caught unaware and unprepared. The websites where this kind of material has begun to proliferate are watching closely. But most are clueless about what to do, and nervous about the next steps.

Within communities experimenting with this technique, there is excitement as famous faces suddenly appear in an unlikely "sex tape".

Only rarely do we see flickers of a heavy conscience as they discuss the true effects of what they are doing. Is creating a pornographic movie using someone's face unethical?

Does it really matter if it is not real? Is anyone being hurt?

Perhaps they should ask: How does this make the victim feel?

As one user on Reddit put it, "this is turning into an episode of Black Mirror" - a reference to the dystopian science-fiction TV show.

How are deepfakes created?One piece of software commonly being used to create these videos has, according to its designer, been downloaded more than 100,000 times since being made public less than a month ago.  Doctoring sexually explicit images has been happening for over a century, but the process was often a painstaking one - considerably more so for altering video. Realistic edits required Hollywood-esque skills and budgets.

But by using machine learning, that editing task has been condensed into three user-friendly steps: Gather a photoset of a person, choose a pornographic video to manipulate, and then just wait. Your computer will do the rest, though it can take more than 40 hours for a short clip.

The most popular deepfakes feature celebrities, but the process works on anyone as long as you can get enough clear pictures of the person - not a particularly difficult task when people post so many selfies on social media.

Fakes depicting actress Emma Watson are among the most popular on deepfake communities, alongside those involving Natalie Portman.  But clips have also been made of Michelle Obama, Ivanka Trump and Kate Middleton. Kensington Palace declined to comment on the issue.   Gal Gadot, who played Wonder Woman, was one of the first deepfakes to demonstrate the possibilities of the technology.

An article by technology news site Motherboard predicted it would take a year or so before the technique became automated. It ended up taking just a month.

And as the practice draws more ire, some of the sites facilitating the sharing of such content are considering their options - and taking tentative action.
 
 


Dave Lee, BBC, 05/02/2018

Feedback:
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