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Trading faces with Leo DiCaprio in the hot deepfake social app Zao comes with major privacy concerns

It became China’s top free iOS app in less than 48 hours. Then came the privacy backlash.

Trading faces with Leo DiCaprio in the hot deepfake social app Zao comes with major privacy concerns

What if with just one picture, your face could be swapped with Leonardo DiCaprio’s into clips of some of the award-winning actor’s most memorable roles?

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Oh, and in less than 10 seconds.

The meme possibilities alone may have your head dancing in social media delight. That’s certainly what fueled Chinese app Zao’s meteoric rise up China’s iOS free app charts over the weekend, after being released on Friday, propelling it to the top spot by Sunday. It’s essentially a free, deepfake, face-swapping app that can drop your face into select TV and movie scenes after uploading just a single image.

But almost as quickly as the app’s popularity exploded came the backlash to its less-than-airtight security policy, which initially gave the company “free, irrevocable, permanent, transferable, and relicense-able” rights to all user-generated content and allows Zao to use their images for marketing purposes. After days of complaints, the app issued a statement on Weibo (China’s Twitter-like service) that it had changed its user agreement to address “concerns about privacy and safety issues.”

“This is a new product. We were indeed inconsiderate about people’s core concerns,” the company said. The updated user agreement says Zao “will try its best, based on the privacy terms, to use the content you have authorized us to use within a reasonable, necessary and expressly stated extent . . . Your necessary authorization and agreement will not change your ownership of the intellectual property rights.” The company said it will not store “facial biometric data” on its app.

You may be experiencing a pang of déjà vu, since it wasn’t that long ago that another insanely popular, face-related mobile app hit a rough patch thanks to privacy concerns.

Replacing DiCaprio in 25 years of iconic roles would be cool, but in 2019, the Wolf is coming from social media, not Wall Street, and Inception is starting to look like a documentary.

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About the author

Jeff Beer is a staff editor at Fast Company, covering advertising, marketing, and brand creativity. He lives in Toronto.

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