- Many were outraged this week over a desktop app called DeepNude, that allows users to remove clothing from pictures of women to make them look naked.
- Vice’s Motherboard published an article where they tested the app’s capabilities on pictures of celebrities and found that it only works on women.
- Motherboard described the app as “easier to use, and more easily accessible than deepfakes have ever been.”
- The app’s developers later pulled it from sale after much criticism, but the new technology has reignited debate about the need for social media companies and lawmakers to regulate and moderate deepfakes.
The New Deepfake App
Developers pulled a new desktop app called DeepNude that let users utilize deepfake technology to remove clothing from pictures of women to make them look naked.
The app was removed after an article published by Vice New’s tech publication Motherboard expressed concerns over the technology.
Motherboard downloaded and tested the app on more than a dozen pictures of both men and women. They found that while the app does work on women who are fully clothed, it works best on images where people are already showing more skin.
“The results vary dramatically,” the article said. “But when fed a well lit, high resolution image of a woman in a bikini facing the camera directly, the fake nude images are passably realistic.”
The article also contained several of the images Motherboard tested, including photos of celebrities like Taylor Swift, Tyra Banks, Natalie Portman, Gal Gadot, and Kim Kardashian. The pictures were later removed from the article.
Motherboard reported that the app explicitly only works on women. “When Motherboard tried using an image of a man,” they wrote, “It replaced his pants with a vulva.”
Motherboard emphasized how frighteningly accessible the app is. “DeepNude is easier to use, and more easily accessible than deepfakes have ever been,” they reported.
Anyone can get the app for free, or they can purchase a premium version. Motherboard reported that the premium version costs $50, but a screenshot published in the Verge indicated that it was $99.
In the free version, the output image is partly covered by a watermark. In the paid version, the watermark is removed but there is a stamp that says “FAKE” in the upper-left corner.
However, as Motherboard notes, it would be extremely easy to crop out the “FAKE” stamp or remove it with photoshop.
On Thursday, the day after Motherboard published the article, DeepNude announced on their Twitter account that they had pulled the app.
“Despite the safety measures adopted (watermarks) if 500,000 people use it, the probability that people will misuse it is too high,” the statement said. “We don’t want to make money this way. Surely some copies of DeepNude will be shared on the web, but we don’t want to be the ones who sell it.”
“The world is not yet ready for DeepNude,” the statement concluded. The DeepNude website has now been taken down.
Where Did it Come From?
According to the Twitter account for DeepNude, the developers launched downloadable software for the app for Windows and Linux on June 23.
After a few days, the apps developers had to move the website offline because it was receiving too much traffic, according to DeepNude’s Twitter.
Currently, it is unclear who these developers are or where they are from. Their Twitter account lists their location as Estonia, but does not provide more information.
Motherboard was able to reach the anonymous creator by email, who requested to go by the name Alberto. Alberto told them that the app’s software is based on an open source algorithm called pix2pix that was developed by researchers at UC Berkeley back in 2017.
That algorithm is similar to the ones used for deepfake videos, and weirdly enough it’s also similar to the technology that self-driving cars use to formulate driving scenarios.
Alberto told Motherboard that the algorithm only works on women because “images of nude women are easier to find online,” but he said he wants to make a male version too.
Alberto also told Motherboard that during his development process, he asked himself if it was morally questionable to make the app, but ultimately decided it was not because he believed that the invention of the app was inevitable.
“I also said to myself: the technology is ready (within everyone’s reach),” Alberto told Motherboard. “So if someone has bad intentions, having DeepNude doesn’t change much… If I don’t do it, someone else will do it in a year.”
The Need for Regulation
This inevitability argument is one that has been discussed often in the debates surrounding deepfakes.
It also goes along with the idea that even if these deepfakes are banned by Pornhub and Reddit, they are just going to pop up in other places. These kind of arguments are also an important part of the discussion of how to detect and regulate deepfakes.
Motherboard showed the DeepNude app to Hany Farid, a computer science professor at UC Berkeley who is an expert on deepfakes. Faird said that he was shocked by how easily the app created the fakes.
Usually, deepfake videos take hours to make. By contrast, DeepNude only takes about 30 seconds to render these images.
“We are going to have to get better at detecting deepfakes,” Farid told Motherboard. “In addition, social media platforms are going to have to think more carefully about how to define and enforce rules surrounding this content.”
“And, our legislators are going to have to think about how to thoughtfully regulate in this space.”
The Role of Social Media
The need for social media platforms and politicians to regulate this kind of content has become increasingly prevalent in the discussion about deepfakes.
Over the last few years, deepfakes have become widespread internationally, but any kind of laws or regulations have been unable to keep up with the technology.
On Wednesday, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that his company is looking into ways to deal with deepfakes during a conversation at the Aspen Ideas Festival.
He did not say exactly how Facebook is doing this, but he did say that the problem from his perspective was how deepfakes are defined.
“Is it AI-manipulated media or manipulated media using AI that makes someone say something they didn’t say?” Zuckerberg said. “I think that’s probably a pretty reasonable definition.”
However, that definition is also exceptionally narrow. Facebook recently received significant backlash after it decided not to take down a controversial video of Nancy Pelosi that had been slowed down, making her drunk or impaired.
Zuckerberg said he argued that the video should be left up because it is better to show people fake content than hide it. However, experts worry that that kind of thinking could set a dangerous precedent for deepfakes.
The Role of Lawmakers
On Monday, lawmakers in California proposed a bill that would ban deepfakes in the state. The assemblymember that introduced the bill said he did it because of the Pelosi video.
On the federal level, similar efforts to regulate deepfake technology have been stalled.
Separate bills have been introduced in both the House and the Senate to criminalize deepfakes, but both of the bills have only been referred to committees, and it is unclear whether or not they have even been discussed by lawmakers.
However, even if these bills do move forward, there are a lot of legal hurdles they have to go through. An attorney named Carrie Goldberg, whose law firm specializes in revenge porn, spoke to Motherboard about these issues.
“It’s a real bind,” said Goldberg. “Deepfakes defy most state revenge porn laws because it’s not the victim’s own nudity depicted, but also our federal laws protect the companies and social media platforms where it proliferates.”
However, the article’s author, Samantha Cole, also argued that the political narratives around deepfakes leave out the women victimized by them.
“Though deepfakes have been weaponized most often against unconsenting women, most headlines and political fear of them have focused on their fake news potential,” she wrote.
That idea of deepfakes being “fake news” or disinformation seems to be exactly how Zuckerberg and Facebook are orienting their policies.
Moving forward, many feel that policy discussions about deepfakes should also consider how the technology disproportionately affects women and can be tied to revenge porn.
See what others are saying: (Vice) (The Verge) (The Atlantic)
Google Is Banning “Sugar Dating” Apps as Part of New Sexual Content Restrictions
The change essentially targets apps like Elite Millionaire Singles, SeekingArrangements, Spoil, and tons of other sugar dating platforms.
Sugar Dating Crackdown
Google has announced a series of policy changes to its Android Play Store that include a ban on sugar dating apps starting September 1.
The company’s Play Store policies already prohibit apps that promote “services that may be interpreted as providing sexual acts in exchange for compensation.”
Now, it has updated its wording to specifically include “compensated dating or sexual arrangements where one participant is expected or implied to provide money, gifts or financial support to another participant (‘sugar dating’).”
The change essentially targets apps like Elite Millionaire Singles, SeekingArrangements, Spoil, and tons of other sugar dating platforms currently available for download.
What Prompted the Change?
The company didn’t explain why it’s going after sugar dating apps, but some reports have noted that the move comes amid crackdowns of online sex work following the introduction of the FOSTA-SESTA legislation in 2018, which was meant to curb sex trafficking.
That’s because FOSTA-SESTA created an exception to Section 230 that means website publishers can be held liable if third parties are found to be promoting prostitution, including consensual sex work, on their platforms.
It’s worth noting that just because the apps will no longer be available on the Play Store doesn’t mean the sugar dating platforms themselves are going anywhere. Sugar daters will still be able to access them through their web browsers, or they can just sideload their apps from other places.
Still, the change is likely going to make the use of these sites a little less convenient.
See what others are saying: (The Verge)(Engadget)(Tech Times)
Activision Blizzard CEO Apologizes for “Tone Deaf” Response to Harassment Suit, Unsatisfied Employees Stage Walkout
Organizers of a Wednesday walkout say they “will not return to silence” and “will not be placated by the same processes that led us to this point.”
After a week of growing criticism against its workplace culture, the CEO of Activision Blizzard has finally apologized for how the company first responded to allegations of sexual harassment and assault in its offices.
“Our initial responses to the issues we face together, and to your concerns, were, quite frankly, tone deaf,” CEO Bobby Kotick said Tuesday in a letter to employees. “It is imperative that we acknowledge all perspectives and experiences and respect the feelings of those who have been mistreated in any way. I am sorry that we did not provide the right empathy and understanding.”
In its initial response, Activision Blizzard denounced the disturbing allegations brought forth in a lawsuit by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) as “irresponsible.” The company added that it came from “unaccountable State bureaucrats that are driving many of the State’s best businesses out of California.”
But many current and former employees soon disputed that claim. In fact, at the time, more than 2,500 had signed their name to an open letter condemning the company for its response, which they described as “abhorrent and insulting” to survivors.
In his letter, Kotick promised employees that Blizzard will take “swift action to be the compassionate, caring company you came to work for.”
As part of a series of new policies, he said the company will now offer additional employee support and listening sessions, as well as potential personnel changes to leadership.
“Anyone found to have impeded the integrity of our processes for evaluating claims and imposing appropriate consequences will be terminated,” he added.
Kotick also said Blizzard will add “compliance resources” to ensure that leadership is adhering to diverse hiring directives.
Lastly, he promised that the company will remove “inappropriate” in-game content. In a similar statement on Tuesday, Blizzard’s World of Warcraft team said it’s actively working to remove “references that are not appropriate for our world,” though it didn’t specify what those references were.
It now appears that many of the references being removed are of the game’s former Senior Creative Director, Alex Afrasiabi, who is cited in the lawsuit as someone who hit on and made unwanted advances at female employees. Moreover, the suit also directly accuses him of groping one woman.
“Afrasiabi was so known to engage in harassment of females that his suite” during company events “was nicknamed the “[Cosby] Suite” after alleged rapist Bill [Cosby],” the suit claims.
Organizers of a company-wide employee walkout, which was announced Tuesday and occurred Wednesday, still argue that Kotick’s latest message doesn’t address their larger concerns.
Among those are “the end of forced arbitration for all employees,” “worker participation in oversight of hiring and promotion policies,” “the need for greater pay transparency to ensure equality,” and “employee selection of a third party to audit HR and other company processes.”
“We will not return to silence; we will not be placated by the same processes that led us to this point.”
Ahead of the walkout, Blizzard reportedly encouraged its own employees to attend, saying those workers would face no repercussions and “can have paid time off” during the demonstration, according to The Verge.
Frito-Lay Workers End Nearly Three-Week Strike After Securing Higher Wages and a Guaranteed Day Off
Employees also negotiated an end to “suicide shifts,” which are two 12-hour shifts that are only eight hours apart.
Hundreds of Frito-Lay workers in Kansas have put an end to their nearly three-week strike over alleged mandatory overtime assignments that resulted in extremely long work weeks and so-called “suicide shifts.”
The term “suicide shift” refers to working two 12-hour shifts with only eight hours of rest in between. That can be especially hard on employees who claim to have worked up to 84 hours in a single week. For context, that’s 12 hours a day without a single day off.
One of the reasons workers have found themselves taking on more hours and days at plants is because consumer snacking has increased during the pandemic — so much so that Frito Lay’s recent net growth has exceeded every single one of its targets. That’s why at one point, the striking workers asked consumers to boycott Frito-Lay products in a show of solidarity.
The strikes began July 5 and concluded on July 23 following an agreement reached by union leaders and PepsiCo., Frito-Lay’s parent company. Under that deal, all employees will see a 4% wage increase over the next two years. They’ll also be guaranteed at least one day off a week, and the company will no longer schedule workers with only eight hours off between shifts.
Following the agreement, Anthony Shelton, the president of the union representing the workers, said that they’ve “shown the world that union working people can stand up against the largest food companies in the world and claim victory for themselves, their families and their communities.”
“We believe our approach to resolving this strike demonstrates how we listen to our employees, and when concerns are raised, they are taken seriously and addressed,” Frito-Lay said in a statement. “Looking ahead, we look forward to continuing to build on what we have accomplished together based on mutual trust and respect.”
The Long, Bitter Road to an Agreement
When the workers went on strike, they lobbed several very disturbing accusations against Frito-Lay.
In fact, the workers were pushed so hard that according to one employee who wrote in the Topeka Capital-Journal, “When a co-worker collapsed and died, you had us move the body and put in another co-worker to keep the line going.”
While Frito-Lay dismissed this account as “entirely false,” other employees continued to protest conditions in the plants. Many even argued the 90-degree temperatures they had to stand in to protest outside were preferable to the 100-degree-plus temperatures and smokey conditions in the factories.
During the strikes, PepsiCo. actively disputed that its employees are overworked, describing their claims as “grossly exaggerated” and saying, “Our records indicate 19 employees worked 84 hours in a given work week in 2021, with 16 of those as a result of employees volunteering for overtime and only 3 being required to work.”
It also said an initial concession more than met the striking employees’ terms, but the union backing those workers disagreed, and further negotiations were held until the final deal was reached.