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Deepfake technology to manipulate videos found in TikTok, Douyin apps

tiktok app biometric data collection

ByteDance and TikTok have quietly created Face Swap, a feature that leverages deepfake technology to let users manipulate videos by replacing the faces with their own, TechCrunch reports. Integrated in both TikTok and Chinese app Douyin, the code collects biometric scans from multiple angles. All users have to do is choose the video they want to star in. The feature is based on the same type of biometric data used for Face ID on iPhones.

The deepfake feature has not been launched, although its release might not only help control the dissemination of fake news and misinformation, but also warn people about the risk of being exposed to fake information online, reads the article.

The code was detected in the Android apps by an Israeli startup called Watchful.ai who later tipped off TechCrunch. Users scan their face and confirm their identity by blinking, nodding, opening and closing their mouth for liveness detection and to create a scan that can be stretched to express different emotions. Then they choose a video, swap faces and either share or download it. Videos contain a watermark that warns the content is not real. According to TechCrunch, however, at first glance the videos are flawless and seem authentic. Watchful found a number of unpublished changes to the two companies’ terms and conditions related to privacy and deepfakes.

The U.S. terms and conditions read that the “facial pattern will be used for this feature” and “real identity verification is required to make sure users themselves are using this feature with their own faces.” They further state that “Your facial pattern will only be used to generate face-change videos that are only visible to you before you post it” and that “This feature complies with Internet Personal Information Protection Regulations for Minors.”

The app policy for China states the images are fictional and that videos contain a watermark to warn that the video is not real. “The information collected during the aforementioned detection process and using your photos to generate face-changing videos is only used for live detection and matching during face-changing. It will not be used for other purposes . . . And matches are deleted immediately and your facial features are not stored,” it further reads.

When contacted for an interview by TechCrunch, TikTok refused to comment on biometric privacy, but a spokesperson said the feature is not in TikTok but later stated that “The inactive code fragments are being removed to eliminate any confusion.”

Douyin said it respects Chinese law and denied the mention of Face Swap terms of service in TikTok.

Although it may never be released, the feature is functional and luckily restricts use by minors.

“These deepfake apps might seem like fun on the surface, but they should not be allowed to become trojan horses, compromising IP rights and personal data, especially personal data from minors who are overwhelmingly the heaviest users of TikTok to date,” said Itay Kahana, co-founder and CEO Watchful.ai.

Privacy and national security concerns have led the U.S. Navy to ban the use of social media app TikTok on government-issued mobile devices. U.S. Army cadets have also been banned from using the service. In December, Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-MA), chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee on National Security pushed back a hearing meant to investigate threats facial recognition technology poses to national security. Lynch named TikTok as one of the companies creating a major national security risks, suspecting it of collecting sensitive data from U.S. citizens and turning it in to the Chinese government.

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