Chinese face-swap app triggers privacy fears after going viral

Chinese face-swap app triggers privacy fears after going viral

Chinese face-swap app Zao rocketed to the top of app store charts over the weekend, but user delight at the prospect of becoming instant superstars quickly turned sour as privacy implications began to sink in.

Zao's soaring popularity comes amid growing concern over deepfakes - which are altered by using artificial intelligence to appear genuine. According to a post from the app makers on China's Twitter-like Weibo, ZAO's servers almost crashed due to the surge in traffic.

It is not yet available to United Kingdom or U.S. customers, or anyone without a Chinese phone number.

According to App Annie, a firm that tracks app downloads all over the world, Zao was the most downloaded free app in China's iOS App Store as of 1 September.

Even though it has a limited library of videos to choose from, the app seems to do a very quick and convincing job of overlaying your face on top of that of high-profile actors like Sheldon Cooper, Marilyn Monroe, and Leonardo DiCaprio.

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Gu Shi, a 21-year-old student in Shanghai, downloaded Zao after seeing her friends post clips on their WeChat feeds. "This app gave me a chance to try a totally different style from my normal life".

Similar privacy concerns also surrounded FaceApp earlier this summer, when the Russian app's developer was forced to clarify its privacy policy and offer users the option to delete their photos off its servers if they want.

We thoroughly understand the anxiety people have towards privacy concerns.

Zao said on Weibo that it would address those concerns. According to Bloomberg, the company included a clause that says the developer gets a "free, irrevocable, permanent, transferable, and relicense-able" to the content generated by Zao users.

The app was developed by Chinese dating and live-streaming service Momo, who faced a lot of vitriol after some users combed through its 6,000 character privacy policy. The company listed on the New York Stock Exchange in 2014.

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