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Deepfake App Pulled After Many Expressed Concerns

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  • 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.

Source: The Verge

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)

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Company Apologizes After Shaming Job Applicant for Bikini Photo

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  • After applying to a marketing position at a startup, a 24-year-old woman discovered that the business posted a photo of her in a bikini to its Instagram story.
  • Without naming the woman in the photo, the company added captions calling her unprofessional and urging other applicants to “not share your social media with a potential employer if this is the kind of content on it,” even though the woman said the company, Kickass Masterminds, had requested she follow them on Instagram.
  • The woman, Emily Clow, asked for the story to be taken down multiple times, but it did not disappear until after the story expired. 
  • On Monday, Kickass Mastermind’s CEO issued a public apology following backlash.

Potential Employer Posts Woman’s Bikini Photo to Instagram

An Austin-based startup apologized to one of its applicants after shaming her on its Instagram story for having a bikini photo on her profile.

The incident occurred after 24-year-old Emily Clow applied to an open marketing position at the business —  Kickass Masterminds. Clow said she had been eager to grow her social media and sales experience. 

When she heard back from Kickass Masterminds, she said she was asked to fill out additional application forms and to follow the company’s official Instagram account.

Later, Clow noticed Kickass Masterminds had posted a cropped photo of her in a bikini to its Instagram story, removing Clow’s face likely to mask her identity.

“PSA (because I know some of you applicants are looking at this): do not share your social media with a potential employer if this is the kind of content on it,” the photo’s caption read. “I am looking for a professional marketer – not a bikini model.”

“Go on with your bad self and do whatever in private,” the message continued. “But this is not doing you any favors in finding a professional job.”

Source: Emily Clow
Source: clowd_nine

Clow Responds

Clow then messaged the company privately about the photo, warning them that she had screenshotted the post. She then added, in a seemingly sarcastic tone, “I appreciate your advice.”

“Remember that everything that you put on social is public and future potential employers will see it,” Kickass Masterminds then replied. “Best of luck in your job search!”

Clow then said she did not interpret her photo in her bikini as inappropriate and criticized the company for posting her photo to its account. 

“I am aware of that, as I worked with social media for two years,” she said. “I didn’t realize wearing a bathing suit and appreciating my body made me an unprofessional. MOST employers and companies, especially those who work with marketing, have that understanding. I am disappointed to see a company I was very interested in decided to go out of their way to shame an applicant.”

She then continued by asking Kickass Masterminds to take down the story for the second time, having previously emailed the company to remove it. Clow asked for a third time after Kickass Masterminds only responded with “best of luck” in her job search.

Instead of removing the post, the company reportedly allowed it to appear until the story expired.

Also following that exchange, Clow said the company blocked her, so she took to Twitter. In a post, she said she felt “objectified” and that she was “baffled that the company handled it in such a manner.”

Later, she shared a photo of the company’s bio from its LinkedIn page, saying, “This is fucking hilarious considering.”

In the bio, Kickass Masterminds stated that it works with “rebellious business owners,” specifically those who are “rebelling from the traditional way of earning a living because they’ve lost faith in corporate America.”

It then goes on to say it works with business owners who “want other like-minded people to have their back when shit gets tough in their quest for personal and money freedom.”

Clow’s Post Goes Viral

Soon after, her post went viral and was met with a wave of support online.

“So they’re all about freedom and calling your own shots except when it comes to your self expression with your own body in a way that in no way affects your job performance?” one user wrote. “Such freedom.”

Others then shared a photo reportedly from Kickass Mastermind’s Instagram, which showed the company CEO, Sara Christensen posing while holding up her middle finger. Others then pointed to a photo of Christensen in her bra that was posted to her personal Instagram in 2017. Many users then asked how either photo was more professional than Clow’s.

Source: kickassmasterminds

On the other side of the argument, some still criticized Kickass Masterminds for posting the photo while also arguing that the original photo is still unprofessional. 

“What the hell, of course it’s unprofessional. Women need to help other women learn how to be taken seriously. At some point maybe you will see that. The way she did it probably lacked, but the message is correct. Maintain some privacy, be aware of the [image] you put out there.”

Kickass Masterminds Apologizes

Christensen remained silent on the situation until Monday when she posted an apology to Medium.

“In a very human moment,” she began, “I made an error in judgment by posting to my Instagram stories about a job applicant’s online persona. To anyone watching: I am a great case study in what NOT to do. To Ms. Clow: I apologize for my behavior. I intended you no harm. I should never have made that post.”

“To those I serve through my business and who have trusted my counsel,” she continued. “Many of you have been affected by this very avoidable event. There are no words to describe how sorry I am that you have felt the consequences of my poor decision. You deserve better and I’ve let you down. I will do my best to earn back your trust.”

She then said she had learned her lesson but also said that she is not ready to publicly talk about it.

Kickass Masterminds has now set its Instagram to private, and the company’s Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn pages were taken down.

Meanwhile, Clow has somewhat accepted her new title. On her Instagram profile, she now describes herself as “an unprofessional bikini model.”

See what others are saying: (Yahoo) (NBC News) (Buzzfeed News)

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Houston Rockets GM’s Pro-Hong Kong Tweet Sparks Controversy

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  • Houston Rockets’ General Manager Daryl Morey tweeted in support of Hong Kong protesters, which upset Chinese fans. 
  • The NBA is a major business in China, prompting leaders in the NBA to address the situation and apologize for any offense the tweet, which Morey soon deleted, may have caused. 
  • The damage of the tweet was already done, however. The Chinese Government, Chinese Basketball Association, China-based sponsors for the team, and a platform that streams NBA games to 500 million Chinese viewers cut ties with the Rockets.
  • U.S. politicians are criticizing China for exercising its economic hold on the NBA. They are also upset that the NBA is catering to this hold, instead of showing support for pro-democracy protests.

Morey’s Tweet Stirs Controversy

The NBA is receiving bipartisan backlash from American politicians after apologizing for a tweet in support of Hong Kong’s protesters sent by the Houston Rockets’ General Manager. 

While in Japan for pre-season games on Friday, GM Daryl Morey expressed support for the ongoing pro-Democracy protests in Hong Kong. He tweeted a photo that said, “Fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong.” 

His tweet received backlash before he quickly deleted it, as China—which has condemned these protests in an effort to expand their influence over the city-state—did not like its message. The NBA has a lot of money to make in China, the Houston Rockets in particular.

Yao Ming, one of the most popular Chinese basketball stars, played on the Rockets. His tenure on the team helped make the game as popular as it is in China today and cemented the Rockets as a fan favorite in the country. He is retired from the sport and is now currently the President of the Chinese Basketball Association.

The team’s leaders and the NBA quickly moved to the damage control front after Morey deleted the tweet. The Rockets’ owner, Tilman Fertitta, sent a tweet noting that Morey’s tweet was a reflection of his personal beliefs and not any political beliefs of the team itself. 

Morey posted a series of tweets on his own addressing the situation. He said he did not intend to offend fans in China.

“I have had a lot of opportunity since that tweet to hear and consider other perspectives,” he added.

The NBA took a similar approach in their statement and also worked to downplay Morey’s remarks. 

“While Daryl has made it clear that his tweet does not represent the Rockets or the NBA, the values of the league support individuals’ educating themselves and sharing their views on matters important to them,” the statement read. “We have great respect for the history and culture of China and hope that sports and the N.B.A. can be used as a unifying force to bridge cultural divides and bring people together.”

China Reacts to Tweet

Their efforts, however, could not stop the impact the tweet already had on China. The Chinese government cut ties with the Houston Rockets, as did several businesses, including the team’s Chinese sponsors. The CBA, along with Tencent, which streams NBA games in China to almost 500 million viewers cut their ties as well.

The owner of the Brooklyn Nets, Joe Tsai, who also co-founded Chinese media company Alibaba also condemned the remarks in a statement. 

“I don’t know Daryl personally. I am sure he’s a fine NBA general manager, and I will take at face value his subsequent apology that he was not as well informed as he should have been,” he said. “But the hurt that this incident has caused will take a long time to repair.”

On top of this, a report from The Ringer alleges that Houston Rockets and NBA ownership is debating whether or not to replace Morey as the team’s GM. 

Politicians Respond

This series of events has also stirred up its own controversy among American politicians, who are criticizing the NBA on both sides of the aisle. Democrats and Republicans alike are upset that China has an economic hold on the NBA, and that the NBA is catering to that hold. Many would rather have seen the organization support the sentiment behind Morey’s original tweet instead of China, which has been largely seen as suppressing the pro-democracy protests.

Presidential candidate Julian Castro said that “China is using its economic power to silence critics—even those in the U.S..

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) called the situation “Unacceptable.”

Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) accused the NBA of “kowtowing” to China. He also called out Adam Silver, the NBA’s commissioner, to criticize the organization’s response. 

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) called the NBA’s retreat shameful. 

Silver will be in China this week as various teams play preseason games. He is expected to speak during his trip and touch on the matter. 

See what others are saying: (The Ringer) (Axios) (NPR)

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EU Rules Facebook Can Be Forced to Remove Content Worldwide

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  • The EU’s highest court has ruled that if one EU-member country decides content posted on Facebook is illegal, Facebook can be forced to remove specific content worldwide.
  • Facebook and other critics argued the rule will violate freedom of expression laws in other countries because removing content that one country deems illegal might be protected as free speech in another country.
  • Some critics also claimed the rule will allow authoritarian leaders to justify censorship and stifling political dissent.

European Court of Justice Ruling

The European Union’s highest court ruled Thursday that Facebook can be ordered to remove specific content worldwide if one EU-member country finds it illegal.

In a statement, the European Court of Justice said that if the national court of one EU country decides a post on Facebook is illegal, Facebook will be required to remove all duplicates of that post: not just in that EU country, but everywhere in the world.

The ruling also says that in some cases, even posts that are similar to the post deemed illegal will also have to be removed.

The ECJ made the decision after Austrian politician Eva Glawischnig-Piesczek sued Facebook in Austrian courts demanding that the company remove a defamatory comment someone posted about her, as well as any “equivalent” comments disparaging her.

Reportedly, the post in question was made by a Facebook user why shared a link to a news article that called Glawischnig-Piesczek a “lousy traitor of the people,” a “corrupt oaf” and member of a “fascist party.”

Facebook at first had refused to remove the post, which in many countries would still be considered acceptable political speech. However, Austrian courts ruled that the post was intended to hurt her reputation, and the Austrian Supreme Court referred the case to the ECJ.

In the ECJ statement, the highest court did clarify that Facebook and other social media companies are not liable for illegal content posted on their platforms as long as they did not know it was illegal or removed it quickly.

Regardless, the ruling still comes as a massive blow and a huge change for Facebook and places much more responsibility on the tech giant to control its content.

Facebook’s Response

It should not come as a surprise that Facebook is not happy with the decision.

Before the high court’s decision, Facebook and others critical of the rule argued that allowing one country to force a platform to remove material globally limits free speech. Facebook also argued that the decision would most likely force them to use automated content filters. 

Some activists have claimed automated filters could cause legitimate posts to be taken down because the filters can not necessarily tell if a post is ironic or satirical or a meme⁠—a problem most grandparents also seem to have on Facebook.

Facebook condemned the ECJ ruling in a statement, where it argued that internet companies should not be responsible for monitoring and removing speech that might be illegal in one specific country.

“It undermines the long-standing principle that one country does not have the right to impose its laws on speech on another country,” the statement said. “It also opens the door to obligations being imposed on internet companies to proactively monitor content and then interpret if it is ‘equivalent’ to content that has been found to be illegal.”

“In order to get this right national courts will have to set out very clear definitions on what ‘identical’ and ‘equivalent’ means in practice,” Facebook continued. “We hope the courts take a proportionate and measured approach, to avoid having a chilling effect on freedom of expression.”

Free Speech Debate

Facebook’s statement has also been echoed by some experts in the field, like Thomas Hughes, the executive director of the UK rights group Article 19, who told Reuters that the decision of one country to remove content illegal in its borders could lead to the removal of content that should be protected as free speech in another country.

“Compelling social media platforms like Facebook to automatically remove posts regardless of their context will infringe our right to free speech and restrict the information we see online,” Hughes said. 

“This would set a dangerous precedent where the courts of one country can control what internet users in another country can see. This could be open to abuse, particularly by regimes with weak human rights records.”

Touching on that point, Eline Chivot, an analyst at the Center for Data Innovation told the Financial Times that the ruling could open a “Pandora’s box” whereby the global removal of content deemed illegal in one country could give authoritarian governments and dictators more tools for censorship.

“Expanding content bans worldwide will undermine internet users’ right to access information and freedom of expression in other countries,” she said. “This precedent will embolden other countries, including those with little respect for free speech, to make similar demands.”

EU’s Role in Tech Company Regulation

Ben Wagner, the director of the Privacy and Sustainable Computing Lab at Vienna University, also argued that decision brings up concerns about restricting political speech.

“We’re talking about a politician who is being insulted in a political context, that’s very different than a normal citizen,” he told The New York Times. “There needs to be a greater scope for freedom of opinion and expression.”

The possibility of stifling political speech is a common debate regarding the regulation of content on social media.

On Wednesday, Singapore enacted a “fake news” law that will basically let the government decide what is and is not fake news on social media, leading many to believe the law is simply a tool to limit free speech and suppress political dissent.

Discussions about the regulation of political speech are especially pertinent right now.

Just last week, Facebook announced that posts by politicians will be exempt from the platform’s rules and that they will not remove or label posts by politicians, even if they are disparaging or contains false information.

Now it seems like that will change.

It is also interesting because it speaks to a broader issue of global enforcement for these kinds of rules. As many have pointed out, the EU has increasingly set the standard for tougher regulation of social media and tech companies.

But creating consistent standards for enforcement and oversight has been challenging, especially when attempting to enforce a rule globally. 

At the end of September, the ECJ decided to limit the reach of a privacy law called “the right to be forgotten,” which lets European citizens request that personal data be removed from Google’s search results. 

The ECJ decided that Google could not be required to remove the links globally, but just in EU-member states. 

Before that decision, Google also claimed the law could be abused by authoritarian governments trying to cover up human rights abuses.

Facebook, however, should not expect the court’s rule to change, as the ECJ court’s decision cannot be appealed.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Reuters) (Forbes)

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