Deepfakes have been a topic of controversy ever since they first emerged on the web. To make a deepfake, creators will take ordinary photos and digitally stitch them to videos with the help of machine-learning AI. The result: an uncanny clip of someone who was never filmed.
Prior to 2020, security analysts feared that deepfakes would be deployed to interfere with elections. This led to Facebook making the decision to ban deepfake videos altogether earlier this year. Tap or click here to see how Facebook made this decision.
Believe it or not, deepfakes are still being used every day — but not for political purposes. Instead, cybercriminals are taking ordinary photos from social media to create deepfake revenge porn that anyone can use for blackmail. Here’s what you need to know so you can protect your reputation.
Deepfake finds its niche: revenge porn
If you thought deepfakes would be used to trick you into voting one way or another, think again. Sensity, an online deepfake monitoring firm, recently uncovered a bot service that creates custom deepfake porn based on images uploaded by users. This means any photo, no matter how tame, could be superimposed on an explicit image or video.
The service was discovered on Telegram, an encrypted messaging app that masks communications between users. To create a custom deepfake, users would send an image of a woman they wanted to see nude to the bot. The bot would then strip down the image, generate a fake nude body, and apply it to the original picture using AI.
All images generated by the bot were watermarked, so users would need to pay a fee in order to download them without one. According to a poll taken by the bot, most users were interested in deepfakes based on people they knew versus celebrities. Yikes!
This service wasn’t limited to a small group of customers, either. Sensity found that nearly 101,000 members were using the service by the end of July 2020 and that most of the users were based in Russia and Eastern Europe. What’s more, at least 680,000 women had their likenesses stolen from social media and used by the bot.
The network still appears to be active as of now, and many more women may end up victimized by users of the service without ever knowing. Unlike real revenge porn, which is addressed by laws in multiple states and countries, deepfake porn isn’t considered “real,” meaning it slips through the cracks and can’t be fought as effectively through the law.
How do I know if my images were used? What can I do to protect myself
At this point in time, the only way you’ll know if your pictures were used in a deepfake is if you come across the file itself. Unless you’re wandering shady corners of the web, you will probably never find it. It’s not like every customer who uses the bot publicizes the media they purchase. Some may keep the files and never share them.
Right now, the best thing you can do is take preventative steps to stop your likeness from being used. This means locking down your social media accounts and making them private to strangers. If your accounts are private, only your friends and followers will be able to see what you post and browse your photos.
To get started, let’s see how your Facebook profile looks to strangers. Click your profile picture in the top right corner and click the eye icon below your name. From here, you can check how your public profile looks as well as what specific Facebook users can see. Swipe through and make sure there’s nothing you’d rather keep hidden.
Next, check the privacy settings.
- Open Settings and click Privacy.
- Scroll down to Who can see your future posts? and click Edit. You can adjust audience settings here.
- Scroll down to Limit Past Posts to choose who can view your older content.
- Scroll down to Who can see your friends list? and click Edit. Pick either Friends or Only me.
- Scroll down to Do you want search engines outside of Facebook to link to your profile? and click Edit. Clear out the checkbox that allows search engines to view your profile.
If you also use Instagram or Twitter, follow these steps to make your profile private:
- Go to your profile, then tap on the three-line icon in the corner.
- Tap the Settings icon.
- Tap Privacy, followed by Account Privacy.
- Tap next to Private Account to set your account to private.
- Tap or click here to visit your privacy and safety settings.
- Under Tweet privacy, click the checkbox next to Protect my Tweets.
- Tap Save near the bottom of the page. Enter your password to confirm your settings.
Now that your profiles are private, you should also make sure that you’re not tagged in any photos hosted on other profiles. Even if your settings are totally private, a deepfake user could still grab a picture of you from another profile if you’re tagged in it.
- Click the down arrow in the top right corner of the page.
- Click Settings & Privacy, followed by Activity Log.
- From the upper left of your activity log, click Filter.
- Scroll to Photos & Videos and click the circle to select.
- Click Privacy: See all and select Privacy: Public. You can also see only the photos you’ve hidden on your timeline by tapping Visibility: All, then Visibility: Hidden.
- Click Save Changes.
- Tap the photo or video you want to untag.
- Search for your username and tap on it.
- Tap on Remove Me From Post.
- Select Remove.
If you do somehow run into a deepfake picture or clip on another website, look for a contact page to see if you can get in touch with the website’s administrator. If you explain your situation, they may be able to help you remove it. Many adult sites take requests like these seriously due to the presence of revenge porn.
It’s scary to think that someone else can use our pictures in such a way without us ever finding out. But then again, it’s not just creeps online that want to look through our cameras when we least expect.