It seems that face-swapping apps are all the rage at the moment. On paper, it sounds like a lot of fun. Did you ever want to see your face in a film? Well, now you can! Ever wanted to see how you’d fare as the lead singer of your favorite band? You can do that, too, with the help of the top deepfake apps, which let you face swap with ease.
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The possibilities for the application of face swapping are endless, especially in the entertainment industry. But it’s not all fun and games. There is huge potential for the technology to be abused, particularly regarding cyberbullying and deepfake pornograpy. In the age of so-called “fake news,” you really shouldn’t take anything you see on the internet at face value—quite literally, in the case of deepfakes. Developers of deepfake apps also hold tremendous power over the sheer volume of personal data provided by users, raising serious concerns around data privacy.
How does deepfake technology work?
Deepfake technology utilizes a combination of artificial intelligence and machine learning to produce high-quality visual and audio output. This generally involves feeding a program hundreds, if not thousands, of images or audio samples in order to train it to produce realistic models. On a consumer level, the most common use is in deepfake apps on smartphones that take a user’s facial features and either 1) superimposes their face onto another head, or 2) superimposes another face onto their own.
Top deepfake apps
Generally speaking, each developer on this list claims to only collect information relevant to the function of their respective apps. Once processed, user-uploaded data is then said to be deleted. Nor are they used to train machine-learning algorithms outside of the function of the apps. Whether or not this is actually true remains to be seen, as there is currently no official regulatory oversight for monitoring deepfake apps. Let’s look at six top deepfake apps and some of the notable controversies around how they use personal data that you should consider before downloading them.
Probably the most well-known app on this list, FaceApp is a hugely popular photo and video editing app from Wireless Lab that generates extremely realistic transformations of human faces. The app has steadily gained traction, amassing over half a billion downloads since its release in 2016. Its most popular features include the ability to gender swap, age, or de-age a user’s photos.
Considered to be the Chinese answer to FaceApp, Zao comes with similar capabilities—and similar controversies. Zao was created by a subsidiary of Chinese tech company Momo, which develops social and dating apps. Zao’s main feature allows users to upload portraits and swap their faces with those of celebrities across a selection of video clips using its AI engine.
When Zao was released in August 2019, it rocketed to the top of the charts as one of the most popular deepfake apps on the Apple App Store. Shortly thereafter, Zao’s user agreement came under public scrutiny as it provided Momo with total and permanent rights to repurpose user-generated content in any way it sees fit. This went down about as well as you’d imagine with users. Interestingly enough, the controversy gained enough traction that Chinese state media also issued its concerns over the privacy issue.
Initially released in January 2020 as Doublicat by Ukrainian developer Neocortext, the app was renamed Reface around half a year later. It has quickly become one of the top deepfake apps on both Google Play and the Apple App Store in over 100 countries. Reface uses GAN AI technology to transform user provided photos and live video input with gender swaps and celebrity or movie character face swapping.
As the name would suggest, Avatarify brings your uploaded photo to life. Avatarify’s AI engine allows users to turn their images into singing portraits, cartoons, or swap them into celebrity videos. Images of pets can also be animated.
Released in July 2020, the app gained a huge following after Avatarify videos went viral on TikTok and Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok. However, in early 2021, Apple removed Avatarify from its China app store after privacy-related concerns were raised.
Voilà AI Artist
And now for something a little different. Developer Wemagine.AI have created Voilà AI Artist, a deepfake app that allows users to transform their faces into 3D cartoons, hand-drawn caricatures, and even Renaissance-era paintings. As with other deepfake apps on this list, Voilà AI Artist claims to delete all images uploaded by users after a brief period of time—in this case between 24 and 48 hours.
Perhaps it’s boilerplate legalese? Perhaps it shows that privacy is an afterthought? It certainly adds fuel to the conversation around users’ data privacy, and that users should think very carefully before sharing their photos with apps and online services.