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Terrifying Chinese Deepfake ZAO is the Coolest App You’ll Sell Your Privacy To

Last Updated September 25, 2020 8:43 PM
Tiago Manuel
Last Updated September 25, 2020 8:43 PM

Zao is the app of the moment, ranking atop Chinese app sales charts in less than a week. The Zao uses Deepfake technology to allow people to plaster their own faces on top of any character they want after a scan that takes just a few seconds. So far it’s only officially available in China, though a few Westerners have already been able to get in on the program.

ZAO works surprisingly – terrifyingly well even

Ever wanted to see how you would look like in Leonardo Dicaprio’s shoes? You can, as long as you have access to the app, and 8 seconds to spare.


It works even with video game characters.

What about a computer-generated character, whose skin complexion doesn’t even match the user’s face? No problem, the app matches everything for the user surprisingly well. A user can even make every character in a scene look like him if he so desires.

It does raise some serious privacy concerns

Coming from China, regardless of how cool and harmless it looks, any tech that requires a picture of someone’s face should raise eyebrows. This is a country that’s actively invests in isolation and control of its population. No better way to achieve this than by getting all citizens to happily give away all their data under the guise of a cool app. The user agreement paints a bleak picture, which reveals that on signing, users are giving away the rights for every image captured. :

…[F]ree, irrevocable, permanent, transferable, and relicenseable…

The app’s devs have pledged to make changes to the agreement, but that remains to be seen.

Zao is not even the first time China is creating apps that look horrifying in hindsight. In 2017, they released “Clap for Xi Jinping”, where players compete to show who can applaud Xi Jinping’s speeches the hardest . That’s horrifying coming from a country that intends to implement a social credit system  that rewards or punishes the population video game style by evaluating how much love they show for their government.

The Deepfake tech could usher in an even worse age of fake news.

Think Fake News has peaked? Even if the government doesn’t end up using the user data for nefarious means, and it doesn’t get stolen or sold to an evil third party, you still have the worst to be afraid of. In a time when dumb fake news easily sways millions daily, it’s hard to imagine such easy to use technology not being used to create mischief . How long until we see world leaders declare wars they wouldn’t otherwise? We’ll soon find out, as the app’s success makes it too big to stay confined to China’s mainland for long.