Be awake to the deepfake

1 November 2019

SA’s Wireless Application Service Providers’ Association (WASPA) is advising smartphone users alarmed by the ‘deepfake’ phenomenon that the expected promulgation of South Africa’s Cybercrimes and Cyberbullying Bill is imminent.

Furthermore, there are practical ways Web users can protect themselves from the growing trend to bully, shame and otherwise digitally harm people by overlaying their images onto unrelated photos and videos to concoct an untrue and alternative version of reality.

In this fake reality made possible by deep machine learning, reputations are destroyed and self-harm becomes a real possibility. “Local legislation offers some protection but with deepfake videos increasing by 84% since last year, according to one source, it’s unlikely that South African authorities will be able to prevent all online threats to their citizens that would falsely turn them into the subject of harmful hoaxes, fake news, revenge porn and more,” explains Ilonka Badenhorst, general manager of WASPA.

Developing sophisticated apps that allow anyone to replace the original face in a video with someone else’s face, for example, and then offering such apps for download to anyone who has access to the Web is dangerous at best and malicious at worst.

“Numerous governments worldwide have recognised that there is nothing harmless about demolishing someone’s reputation or self-esteem and, like South Africa, have sought to criminalise the creation and distribution of deepfakes,” says Badenhorst. As a non-profit industry association with protection of the end user as a key mandate, WASPA presents five ways that mobile users can protect themselves against deepfakes:

1.Control access to your digital identity as tightly as you would access to your hardcopy real-world identity card or green ID book.

2.Use watermarks in the background of your personal pictures to make it as difficult as possible for your digital image to be manipulated.

3.Set your social media accounts to private to limit the possibility of strangers who would do you harm having access to photos of yourself. The advantage of this also lies in the fact that should you suffer damage to your online persona it is easier to track down the offender.

4.Because speed is of the essence in limiting the fallout from deepfakes, enable a Google Alert on your own name so that any deepfakes circulating can be rapidly identified and hopefully curtailed.

5.Finally, and perhaps most importantly, conduct yourself with integrity in the real world so that any deepfakes will be quickly identified as such by people who know the real you.

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