AsiaMag | Zao : Chinese Deepfake App

Zao : Chinese Deepfake App

In appearance innocent and intended to make his loved ones smile, the applications of deepfake multiply. The latest one offers Chinese users to stick their face in place of that of many stars. But at what cost ?

In early September, China changed the face of the world. The free application ‘Zao’ (only downloadable on the Chinese App Store), allows to replace the face of any celebrity or fictional character with yours, thanks to a deepfake technology. The application quickly became viral. One selfie and you can replace Leonardo DiCaprio in each of his films. In just two days, Zao has also become the most downloaded free application of the Chinese market.

The Chinese government does not really need the app to get facial recognition data, but the Zao app should first and foremost alert us to huge breakthroughs in deepfakes and the drifting that such technologies can cause.

The ease of use of the application makes this technological feat as fascinating as terrifying. Fears have indeed quickly emerged on the protection of personal data. Fears justified, since the application had a right “free, irrevocable, permanent, and transferable” on all content generated by its users.

The company behind Zao was forced to react, and was rather reassuring. The photos and videos of its users will not be used without their consent, and the data may be erased. But this app is a new proof of concept of the deepfake era. It is technically possible to make anyone say anything … for any purpose. Influencing elections, changing a person’s reputation, spreading false statements, the list goes on.