Appearing on the Andrew Pierce show on Friday 2 April, Rory Lynch, a Senior Associate in the Reputation & Privacy team, discussed the rise of deep fakes, their potential for harm and what could be done to regulate them.
You can listen to the full interview by clicking this link and navigating to 7:23.
Andrew Pierce: What do deep fake apps do?
Rory Lynch: Essentially, deep fakes are manipulated videos - they are fake videos which appear to show someone doing or saying something which they haven’t. They can also be manipulated, such as in the Joe Biden example, to make an individual appear ill.
There are different ways that it is done - you can either take an image and manipulate someone’s lips, as in the Alternative Queen’s Speech produced by Channel 4, or you can super impose someone’s face onto a scene or someone else’s body. An example of that would be on the one of many apps that now allow you to super impose your face onto an actor or actress in a scene from a famous movie scene.
Andrew Pierce: That [superimposing yourself into a movie scene] is all fun and harmless of course. What is the downside?
Rory Lynch: There are a lot of different implications both legally and morally. One thing that has been happening is that this technology is being abused to harass and humiliate people, with revenge porn being one prime example. All of this brings in the remit of criminal law. So, unfortunately, while some of these technologies can be used for harmless fun, they can also be used for much more nefarious purposes.
An example would be the popular, free communications app Telegram - recently, manipulated deep fake porn bots were featured. These bots would take normal images of girls and would be able to strip them of their clothes so they appeared naked, sometimes appearing to perform sex acts. These images could be then sent to the victim to intimidate or harass then. Clearly, this is the dark side of the technology.
Andrew Pierce: ReFace, a face swapping app, has been downloaded twenty million times in a matter of months. How have people become aware of these apps?
I think this has just been one of those explosions in apps. Over the last few months, I became aware of an app that makes someone sing a song by manipulating their lips to mimic the lyrics - it is those kinds of things that boosts awareness of these technologies. The proliferation of these kinds of apps, just designed for the user to have fun, have made this technology absolutely explode, and you do see explosions of these kinds of apps regularly. From FatFace a number of years ago, to apps that make you look older, a number of these apps have gone viral - the problem, as you identified, is that some can be used for criminal activity.
Andrew Pierce: Is there any way these apps can be regulated?
Rory Lynch: I know that some countries are looking at regulations.
In South Korea for instance, the government have developed an app to spot deep fakes - a symptom of how worried they are about the potential effects. In terms of the UK, I would suggest the answer may lie in the current Online Safety Bill, formerly The Online Harms Bill, which has completed the White Paper stage and will hopefully hit the statute books later this year.
The bill aims to tackle underage access to pornography and to regulate sexual abuse and harassment online, facilitated by social media platforms. I think there is now an argument to be made for those nefarious deep fake apps to be incorporated into that legislation. It is not too late - amendments can be made and there is certainly an argument to be made that this needs to be dealt with urgently, because of the scope of the harassment and abuse these apps could cause.
Andrew Pierce: Perhaps it needs a high profile politician to become a victim in a distinctly unpleasant way for action to be taken?
Rory Lynch: Absolutely, the examples we have seen, whether the Alternative Queens Speech, which was quite tongue in cheek or the famous videos of Tom Cruise on Tik Tok, have been incredibly realistic but not abusive. For significant action to be taken, it will likely take someone high profile to be targeted in a very negative, abusive way and for them to take a stand. So far, people seem to think it is a bit of fun without realising the dark side of it. There are also of course legal implications and protections for individuals under intellectual property, criminal and even civil law for things like defamation.