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WeChat Restricts Face-Swapping App Over Security Risks

A new Chinese face-swapping app has been kicked off China's most popular messaging app WeChat over security concerns.

The iPhone app ZAO allows users to insert themselves into their favorite movies, TV shows and music videos by face-swapping their own features onto the image of a cast member. It was developed by Changsha Shenduronghe Network Technology, a wholly owned subsidiary of Chinese company Momo.

Currently the app can only be used for a limited number of clips but that hasn't stopped its meteoric rise. The AI-based app went viral shortly after being released on August 30 2019, topping the free charts on the Chinese iOS App Store according to App Annie

The app works by using ‘deepfake’ technology, a human image synthesis technique based on artificial intelligence, to produce a video clip in around eight seconds. All users have to do to live out their dreams of being onscreen is upload a single selfie. Users can produce a more realistic effect by uploading multiple pictures in which they open and close their mouth and eyes. 

Users of the ZAO app criticized its privacy policy which stated that the developers of the app get a “free, irrevocable, permanent, transferable, and relicense-able” license to all user-generated content. Unhappy users left negative reviews about the policy in ZAO's App Store listing. 

The ZAO app has since changed its user agreement to say that the company will not use pictures or videos uploaded by users without their consent for anything other than app improvements. 

WeChat has restricted its users from downloading the ZAO app from its platform and from sending an invite link to the face-swapping app to another WeChat user. However, WeChat users are still able to upload videos they have created with the ZAO app. 

WeChat, which was first released in 2011, has over one billion monthly active users. If users try to download the ZAO app or invite another WeChat user to download it, they are shown a message which reads “This page cannot be accessed now. This web page has been reported multiple times and contains security risks. To maintain a safe online environment, access to this page has been blocked.”

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