By Betsy Morris
Big tech companies such as Facebook Inc., Twitter Inc. and
Google have benefited from enabling users to easily share pictures
or videos, but they are now working to stem the spread of
maliciously doctored content ahead of next year's presidential
So-called deepfakes are images or videos that have been
manipulated through the use of sophisticated machine-learning
algorithms to make it almost impossible to differentiate between
what's real and what isn't. While the technology has positive
applications -- Walt Disney Co. has used algorithms to insert
characters in some of its "Star Wars" movies -- it also has been
used to create more nefarious content.
The tools to create the fake images are improving so rapidly
that "very soon it will be very hard to detect deepfakes with
technology," said Dana Rao, executive vice president and general
counsel for Adobe Inc., the San Francisco company best known for
Photoshop image-editing software. The fight "will be an arms race,"
The number of deepfakes online nearly doubled from December to
August, to 14,678, according to a study by cybersecurity startup
Deeptrace. The rise has prompted action by tech giants.
Alphabet Inc.'s Google on Wednesday, in an update to its
political advertisement policy, said it was prohibiting the use of
deepfakes in those and other ads.
Twitter earlier this month said it was considering identifying
manipulated photos, videos and audio shared on its platform. "The
risk is that these types of synthetic media and disinformation
undermine the public trust and erode our ability to have productive
conversations about critical issues," said Yoel Roth, Twitter's
head of site integrity.
Facebook, Microsoft Corp. and Amazon.com Inc. are working with
more than a half-dozen universities to run a Deepfake Detection
Challenge starting next month. It is intended to accelerate
research into new ways of detecting and preventing media
manipulated to mislead others, Facebook Chief Technology Officer
Mike Schroepfer wrote in a blog post in September.
Interest in making deepfakes is growing fast, according to
Deeptrace. Two years ago the first deepfakes appeared on Reddit,
the popular chat forum. Now at least 20 websites and online forums
are devoted to discussions about how to better produce them.
Deeptrace found online services that can generate and sell
custom deepfakes in as little as two days and for a cost as low as
$2.99 a video, the researchers said.
"It doesn't take a lot of skill," said Matt Turek, a program
manager overseeing deepfake-related research and development
efforts at the Pentagon's technology incubator, the Defense
Advanced Research Projects Agency. The Pentagon is studying
deepfakes out of concern that military planners could be fooled
into bad decisions if altered images aren't detected.
Darpa has developed a prototype media forensics tool for use by
government agencies to detect altered photos and video. It wants to
develop additional technology to detect synthetic audio and fake
text and identify the source and intent of any manipulated
How companies deal with deepfakes is another point of conflict
between tech companies and Washington. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi
(D., Calif.) denounced Facebook earlier this year for its refusal
to take down a doctored video of her. Facebook Chief Executive Mark
Zuckerberg, following the incident, said the company was reviewing
its policy on deepfakes.
Republican Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas has co-sponsored
legislation with Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D., Nev.) to boost
research to identify such content manipulation. On Wednesday, Mr.
Moran called deepfakes "a specific threat to U.S. voters and
consumers by way of misinformation that is increasingly difficult
Several startups have emerged to work on image verification, and
now big tech companies, which have been criticized for not doing
more to prevent disinformation, are getting more involved in the
For example, Facebook has amassed more than 100,000 videos
featuring actors -- not images drawn from the social media site's
actual users -- that researchers can use to help develop and test
systems to spot deepfakes.
Google has similarly built up a catalog to hone
deepfake-detection research. This year the company assembled a
trove of audio clips to help researchers develop ways to identify
fake speech that can be spliced into a video. Google also is
drawing on its work developing text-to-speech conversion tools and
to devise new ones that can help authenticate a speaker.
Adobe is taking a different approach. The company has developed
a system that will allow authors and publishers to attach
information to content, such as who created it and when and where.
It is working with New York Times Co. and Twitter and will share
the technology, which it says it will aim to make an industrywide
system for authenticating content.
Adobe said it would introduce the authentication tool on its
Photoshop editing software as an opt-in feature in the next several
months. Adobe expects most legitimate authors and creators to opt
in, while bad actors wouldn't, Mr. Rao said.
Elsewhere, the nonprofit arm of the AI Foundation, an advocacy
group for the safe use of artificial intelligence, has created a
website to help campaigns and journalists analyze photos and videos
within minutes of receiving them. The portal, called Reality
Defender 2020, uses complex algorithms to detect pixel changes and
other anomalies, such as in a candidate's mannerisms, mouth
movements, face wrinkles and shadows, to detect alterations. It has
drawn on research from dozens of academics.
"There is no one silver bullet," said the AI Foundation's
founder and chief technology officer, Rob Meadows.
--Till Daldrup contributed to this article.
Write to Betsy Morris at firstname.lastname@example.org
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
November 22, 2019 08:10 ET (13:10 GMT)
Copyright (c) 2019 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
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