A mobile application that enables users to appear as celebrities in hit movies or TV series has been widely accused of excessively collecting personal information, stirring public concerns over privacy and the rights to one's image.
The app, dubbed ZAO, or "make" in Mandarin, allows users to upload photos of their faces and swap them with the faces of celebrities in blockbusters or hit TV series by using artificial intelligence.
On the app, users can choose from a pool of video footage and replace a star's face with their own by uploading their own high-definition photos featuring a full-frontal shot of their faces.
Then they need to verify their faces following a string of instructions that require them to open their mouths or lift their heads, for example, to make sure the face is really theirs.
The app can automatically analyze and ban photos of public figures. Users cannot share finished videos without face verification.
ZAO became a sensation overnight. Since last Friday, social media users have posted videos starring themselves on various digital platforms,－so many that the server was almost paralyzed, the app said on Weibo last Friday night, adding that they probably would have to make stricter traffic restrictions the next day.
It attracted a large number of netizens soon after its debut last Friday night, but many began to worry if their personal information would be disclosed and used by criminals amid the trend of facial recognition payment.
The practice of creating deepfakes was popularized in 2017 by an anonymous Reddit user called deepfakes who posted fake hardcore porn videos featuring the faces of Gal Gadot, Taylor Swift and other celebrities. The account garnered some 80,000 subscribers in a matter of months.
The original agreement, which sparkled wide controversy online, said "before you upload or post any content, you agree to grant ZAO, its affiliates and ZAO users worldwide the right to irrevocably use your original photo, synthesized photo and videos for free and for good … and to make changes to the portraits of the original holders."
The app's sharing link on WeChat, a Chinese social network app, has been shut down, and its web page said that "the page has security hazards and has received many complaints. In order to maintain a good internet environment, access has been stopped."
The app also modified its user agreement on Saturday, adding a special notice in the front that states content will not be used for other purposes and can be removed from the server.
The platform said on Sunday on its Sina Weibo account that "we fully understand your concerns about privacy issues. We have received the questions you have raised and will correct the parts that were not well-considered. It will take some time."