New regulations are rolled out by Chinese regulators to halt deep-fake technology in order to stop online rumours and disinformation. Whilst this phenomenon of quickly developing technology is evident in the whole world, China emphasizes being the leader in regulations. What is deep fake technology and how does China regulate this new challenge?
The technology of deep fakes is a rising occurrence in the online world. The technology, which is AI-based technology, can create a picture or a video of one’s head on someone else’s body. In this sense, existing footage gets manipulated by artificial intelligence. While this can be seen as a funny way of creating memories, as Instagram and Tiktok have features to swap faces, deep fakes go further.
Sophisticated algorithms as used in deep fakes can create close-to-real footage. As this proves how far technology has become, the intended way of using this tool differs as entertainment shifts towards fraud. Normally, the tool is used to “reanimate” (public) persons who have passed away. As exemplified in Dutch news, the killed Sedar Soared (13 years old) got “resurrected” in a video wherein he asked to assist in finding his murderer. Moreover, the young boy requested witnesses to go to the police to finally close the 2003 cold case.
The opposite is that deep fake technology often is used in the pornographic scene. Recently, the Dutch police arrested a 38-year-old man because he allegedly made deep fake pornography of a news presenter. As understood, deep fake technology can quickly influence the public reputation, often celebrities or public figures, in a negative manner. This can also be done by making the person say certain phrases going against the beliefs of the person in the almost-real deep fake production(s).
Regulations and laws are lacking and not optimised for the upcoming revolution of deep fakes. The public debate also seeps into contracts and privacy infringement. In certain cases, movie production companies have contractual clauses of owning the voice, body, or face of the actor. This can be used in any way desirable by the company, without the need for consent from the actor. Moreover, start-ups will buy your face to create a digital deep fake copy to sell their products and services: technology is taking over real persons. On top of this is that deep fakes are getting harder to recognize by both person and computer, due to the rapid developments in the scene.
China wants to be the frontier in this technology and rolls out new regulations “to rein in the use of deep synthesis technology as part of the government’s ongoing campaign to clamp down on online rumours and disinformation”. Having seen this in their strict, and increasingly stricter, Intellectual Property Rights (IPs), China now also focuses on deep synthesis technologies. Taking effect on January 10 of next year, the Cyberspace Administration of China, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology and the Public Security Ministry published the announcement on November 25.
To tackle the extensive usage of deep fake AI technology, and to therefore stop misinformation or reputational damage, all the altered footage needs to be explicitly labelled so that it can get traced back to the source. In the case of using someone’s voice, image, or personal attribute, the person needs to be notified in advance and have given their consent. Furthermore, these deep fakes can only be produced by utilising government-approved sources. According to South China Morning Post (SCMP), the approved news outlets consist of 1,358 names.
The deep synthesis service providers are also urged to follow local laws, respect ethics, and maintain “correct political direction and correct public opinion orientation, according to the new law”. China’s top internet regulator said that by leaving deep fake technology and its development unchecked that the usage of deep synthesis could result in criminal activities such as online scams or defamation. Whilst the Western world mainly uses the word “deep fakes”, China emphasises that deep synthesis is “the use of technologies, including deep learning and augmented reality, to generate text, images, audio, video and create virtual scenes”.
Also, the Western companies of Twitter and Facebook recognize this issue, and have introduced specific rules to “detect and prevent the spread of deep fake-facilitated disinformation”. China will not completely halt the development or spread of this advancement of technology. Instead, further developments using lawful and rational ideology are promoted in the conquest to maintain a healthy development and situation.
With these new regulations and stipulations, China aims at developing and utilizing deep synthesis (in online information services) for the good rather than the negatives. With this incentive, China is shown to take a major role in regulating technologies and assuring fair usage on a legal basis throughout the country. Related to this, Axel Voss, a member of the European parliament focussed on digitalisation, argues that western countries, emphasising the European Union, should follow technological developments and act quickly. If the EU lacks behind in regulations and/or further development, the technological advantage(s) can get lost fairly easily and the EU gets overruled by China, America, and even the development hotspots found in African countries.