China To Implement Tough Rules About the Use of “Deepfakes” From Next Month

Cyberspace Administration (CAC), Beijing has issued regulations that prohibit the use of deepfakes without the subject’s permission, or to depict or utter anything that could be considered as counter to the national interest. Anything counter to socialist values falls under that description, as does any form of “Illegal and harmful information” or using AI-generated humans in an attempt to deceive or slander.

Deepfakes are the use of artificial intelligence to create realistic depictions, pictures, or videos of humans saying and/or doing things they didn’t say and/or do. They’re controversial outside China for their potential to mislead audiences and create trouble for the people depicted.

Under the new guidelines, companies and technologists who use the technology must first contact and receive consent from individuals before they edit their voice or image.

The rules officially called The Administrative Provisions on Deep Synthesis for Internet Information Services come in response to governmental concerns that advances in AI tech could be used by bad actors to run scams or defame people by impersonating their identity. In presenting the guidelines, the regulators also acknowledge areas where these technologies could prove useful. Rather than impose a wholesale ban, the regulator says it would actually promote the tech’s legal use and, “provide powerful legal protection to ensure and facilitate,” its development.

China expects synthetic humans will be widely used. For instance, they allow the use of deepfakes in applications such as chatbots. In such scenarios, deepfakes must be flagged as digital creations.

The document also envisages that deepfakes will be used by online publishers, which must take into account China’s myriad other rules about acceptable online content. Including the one that censored images of Winnie the Pooh online, as the beloved bear – as depicted by illustrator E.H. Shepard – was felt to resemble, and mock, China’s president-for-probably-life Xi Jinping.

The regulations also spell out how the creators of deepfakes – who are termed “deep synthesis service providers” – must take care that their AI/ML models and algorithms are accurate and regularly revised, and ensure the security of the data they collect.

The rules also include a requirement for the registration of users – including their real names. Because allowing an unknown person to mess with deepfakes would not do.

The rules are pitched as ensuring that synthesis tech avoids the downsides and delivers benefits to China. Or, as Beijing puts it (albeit in translation), deepfakes must “Promote the healthy development of internet information services and maintain a good ecology of cyberspace.”

Kendra Schaefer, the Beijing-based partner at Trivium China consultancy, pointed CNBC toward her note published in February when the draft rules were announced, in which she discussed the implications of the landmark regulation.

“The interesting bit is that China is taking aim at one of the critical threats to our society in the modern age: the erosion of trust in what we see and hear, and the increasing difficulty of separating truth from lies,” the note said.

Through the introduction of regulation, China’s various regulatory bodies have been building experience in enforcing tech rules. There are some parts of the deepfake regulation that are unclear, such as how to prove you have consent from another to use their image. But on the whole, Trivium said in its note, China’s existing regulatory system will help it enforce the rules.

According to the Deep Synthesis Provisions, deep synthesis service providers must strengthen data management by taking necessary measures for personal data protection according to the existing Data Security Law, Personal Information Protection Law, etc. Service providers are required to establish and enhance management systems for staff training, algorithm review, user registration, data security, child protection, and the protection of personal information.

The Deep Synthesis Provisions call for the creation of a mechanism for dispelling fake news so that when deep synthesis services are used to produce, copy, publish and disseminate false information, deep synthesis service providers are required to take measures to dispel such news, keep records, and report them to the relevant authorities (such as the Internet Information Department). In addition, the new measures make it mandatory to add labels or tags on information generated from using deep synthesis technologies. These include voice simulation, intelligent conversation or writing that simulates the style of a real person, face image synthesis, or face manipulation.

That all sounds great, but China’s privacy laws have one glaring loophole tucked within it. Though the law protects people from private companies feeding off their data, it does almost nothing to prevent those same harms from being carried out by the government. Similarly, with deepfakes, it’s unclear how the newly proposed regulations would, for instance, prohibit a state-run agency from doctoring or manipulating certain text or audio to influence the narrative around controversial or sensitive political events.

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