Face-Swapping App ‘ZAO’ Goes Viral While Raising Concerns About User Privacy

By Bill Toulas / September 2, 2019

Last week, we presented the belief of a video expert about the rise of deepfake porn. Only a few days before, we prepared a piece on why we should be worried about deepfake abuse, and also presented the privacy concerns that arise when such tools go viral. Sure enough, another deepfake face-swapping app called “ZAO” went viral over the weekend, accumulating millions of downloads, and accepting numerous user uploads on its servers.

Similarly to the FaceApp tool that caused great concern over user privacy matters when it stole the spotlight back in July, the Chinese developer (Momo Inc.) of the ZAO app and its obscure background is putting experts in warning mode again. Admittedly, it’s fun to swap your face with Batman’s and enjoy seeing yourself beat Superman in Dawn of Justice, but this also means that your face will be stored on ZAO's servers. The problem is that the app requires a set of images with users blinking their eyes, opening their mouth, and capturing various angles, which enables the app to generate more realistic deepfake clips.

Apart from that, users agree to terms that grant the app with free, irrevocable, permanent, transferable, and re-license-able rights to all user-generated content. This basically means that the Chinese company can do whatever they like with the user content, including selling it to another entity. Sounds scary right? The community backlash that this detail has raised forced Momo Inc. to change that part on its user terms. Moreover, they have assured people that they wouldn’t use their uploads in an inappropriate way. As they stated: “We understand the concern about privacy. We’ve received the feedback, and will fix the issues that we didn’t take into consideration, which will need a bit of time.”

This is another example which clearly highlights that people aren’t reading the terms they agree to and aren’t paying attention to who is behind a viral app. We only care about the fun and features, but there's always a catch. Before uploading your face anywhere, think about where this data goes, what are the risks of this data ending up everywhere on the internet, and compare the enjoyment with the consequences of having your privacy compromised.

Have you used ZAO or any other deepfake app yet? Let us know of your experience in the comments down below, or on our socials, on Facebook and Twitter.

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