Deepfakes: In an age of privacy concerns, are we safe?

Deepfakes have spread like wildfire across the internet over the past 12 months, but as this video manipulation technique gets more advanced, so too do concerns about privacy. So, just how safe are you?

What should you know?

Jordan Peele demoing the capabilities of deepfakes
Jordan Peele showcasing the power of the technology as he imitates Obama. Photo: IPS

Deepfake refers to the advanced video manipulation technique that shifts the face of a person into another individual, most often that of a celebrity or prominent figure.

Using an AI to study video, the technology is able to track the movements of the face and convincingly change it, so that it appears very real, such as this video by ctrl shift face. However, whilst the technology is fascinating it’s beginning to pose huge problems for celebrities in particular.

As deepfake videos are so convincing, it begins to raise serious questions about the reliability of online video content. With the doctored videos blurring the lines between reality and fiction, a whole host of privacy issues are being violated.

It’s especially invasive for those whose identities are being mapped onto the controversial media, including pornography, that’s being widely distributed across the internet.

But are we safe?

Deepfakes in pornography
Deepfakes have proved very popular for the porn industry. Logo: Wikipedia

The spread and popularity of deepfakes is relentless, in the past year there has been an influx of  videos using the manipulating technique, including this one, again by Youtuber ctrl shift face. Depicting Bill Hader morphing into Tom Cruise the video shows just how easy the deepfake technology can manipulate a face, posing huge risks to the privacy of individuals and suggesting how easily it would be to fake online content.

Whilst the likes of me and you may not be specifically targeted, celebrities and well-known figures are frequent victims of deepfake videos, especially within pornography. Posing issues and risks for the most well-known in society, pornographic videos that manipulate the faces of pornstars to appear as famous women include that of Ariana Grande, Bella Thorne and Margot Robbie.

The Guardian online recently posted an article about the risks of deepfake technology after videos of prominent political figures started appearing online, such as this one created by Jordan Peele. Testing individual perceptions of what is real or what is not, these types of videos show how individual privacy can be violated through fake content, whilst also opening the gateway for potential revenge porn

The future of deepfakes, where do we go from here?

Live CCTV and deepfakes
Deepfakes have been adapted to CCTV manipulation via a BBC series. Photo: publicdomainpictures.net

The visual technology deepfakes used is already very advanced and shows how society is continually pushing the barrier in technological advancements, however, how far is too far?

The UK recently made a fictional series based around the deepfake technology, depicting possible future advancements that would see it manipulate live CCTV images. Whilst the technology is not readily available yet, it poses questions and presents risks about how far video manipulation can and could go in the future. With the technology making us question our reality already, it could hold even more frightening implications.

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