Top 6 deepfake apps: Are they safe?

Half demon, split profile picture.

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. 

FaceApp

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.

In 2019, the Russian app developer came under fire for ambiguous language in its privacy policy, allowing it to use users’ faces and likenesses for commercial purposes. Further, it was unclear as to where the app stored uploaded photos and for how long. Questions have been raised about whether or not user data is stored on Russian servers; however, Yaroslav Goncharov, FaceApp’s owner, went on the record to state that the app does not share any user-uploaded data with Russian authorities.

Zao

Considered to be the Chinese answer to FaceApp, Zao comes with similar capabilitiesand 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.

Reface

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.

Reface has dealt with some controversy for a section in its terms of use that states use of the app grants Neocortext “perpetual license to create derivative works from, exhibit, broadcast, publicly perform, and publicly display the Generated content in any form and in any and all media or distribution methods.” Reface has stated that any images uploaded by users will be deleted from Google Cloud within an hour.

Avatarify

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. 

Wombo

Released in February 2021 and described by developers Wombo Studios as “the world’s best AI-powered lip sync app,” Wombo is another popular app that allows users to transform their selfies into singing portraits. A variety of popular songs are on offer on the app for users to choose from. In contrast to other entries in this list, Wombo’s privacy policy states no intention to repurpose content generated by its user base and that all uploaded imagery is deleted immediately after processing.  

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.

Strangely—or not?—the Wemagine.AI terms of service states verbatim what Reface’s terms of use do about user-generated content. Specifically that: “perpetual license to create derivative works from, exhibit, broadcast, publicly perform, and publicly display the Generated content in any form and in any and all media or distribution methods.

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.

Read more: New AI tech bodes ill for identity theft, scams, and propaganda

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