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Facebook scientists say they can tell where deepfakes come from


An example of a deepfake created by CNBC

Kyle Walsh

Artificial intelligence researchers at Facebook and Michigan State University say they have developed a new piece of software that can reveal where so-called deepfakes have come from.

Deepfakes are videos that have been digitally altered in some way with AI. They’ve become increasingly realistic in recent years, making it harder for humans to determine what’s real on the internet, and indeed Facebook, and what’s not.

The Facebook researchers claim that their AI software — announced on Wednesday — can be trained to establish if a piece of media is a deepfake or not from a still image or a single video frame. Not only that, they say the software can also identify the AI that was used to create the deepfake in the first place, no matter how novel the technique.

Tal Hassner, an applied research lead at Facebook, told CNBC that it’s possible to train AI software “to look at the photo and tell you with a reasonable degree of accuracy what is the design of the AI model that generated that photo.”

The research comes after MSU realized last year that it’s possible to determine what model of camera was used to take a specific photo — Hassner said that Facebook’s work with MSU builds on this.

‘Cat and mouse game’

Deepfakes are bad news for Facebook, which is constantly battling to keep fake content off of its main platform, as well as Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp. The company banned deepfakes in Jan. 2020 but it struggles to swiftly remove all of them from its platform.

Hassner said that detecting deepfakes is a “cat and mouse game,” adding that they’re becoming easier to produce and harder to detect.

One of the main applications of deepfakes so far has been in pornography where a person’s face is swapped onto someone else’s body, but they’ve also been used to make celebrities appear as though they’re doing or saying something they’re not.

Indeed, a set of hyper realistic and bizarre Tom Cruise deepfakes on TikTok have now been watched over 50 million times, with many struggling to see how they’re not real.

Today, it’s possible for anyone to make their own deepfakes using free apps like FakeApp or Faceswap.

Deepfake expert Nina Schick, who has advised U.S. President Joe Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron, said at the CogX AI conference on Monday that detecting deepfakes isn’t easy.

In a follow up email she told CNBC that Facebook and MSU’s work “looks like a pretty big deal in terms of detection” but stressed that it’s important to find out how well deepfake detection models actually work in the wild.

“It’s all well and good testing it on a set of training data in a controlled environment,” she said, adding that “one of the big challenges seems that there are easy ways to fool detection models — i.e. by compressing an image or a video.”

Tassner admitted that it might be possible for a bad actor to get around the detector. “Would it be able to defeat our system? I assume that it would,” he said.

Broadly speaking, there are two types of deepfakes. Those that are wholly generated by AI, such as the fake human faces on www.thispersondoesnotexist.com, and others that use elements of AI to manipulate authentic media.

Schick questioned whether Facebook’s tool would work on the latter, adding that “there can never be a one size fits all detector.” But Xiaoming Liu, Facebook’s collaborator at Michigan State, said the work has “been evaluated and validated on both cases of deepfakes.” Liu added that the “performance might be lower” in cases where the manipulation only happens in a very small area.

Chris Ume, the synthetic media artist behind the Tom Cruise deepfakes, said at CogX on Monday that deepfake technology is moving rapidly.

“There are a lot of different AI tools and for the Tom Cruise, for example, I’m combining a lot of different tools to get the quality that you see on my channel,” he said.

It’s unclear how or indeed if Facebook will look to apply Tassner’s software to its platforms. “We’re not at the point of even having a discussion on products,” said Tassner, adding that there’s several potential use cases including spotting coordinated deepfake attacks.

“If someone wanted to abuse them (generative models) and conduct a coordinated attack by uploading things from different sources, we can actually spot that just by saying all of these came from the same mold we’ve never seen before but it has these specific properties, specific attributes,” he said.

As part of the work, Facebook said it has collected and catalogued 100 different deepfake models that are in existence.



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Hardware

Talking Brains, Hardware, and Privacy With Facebook’s Andrew Bosworth


Facebook doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to keeping user data private. So when it revealed a few weeks ago that it was working on a prototype wearable computer that would interpret neuroelectrical signals, people had questions. The wearable—still very much just a concept—is designed to be worn on the wrist, where it could read a wearer’s nerve signals through their skin and translate them into device commands. It’s an idea straight out of sci-fi, and one that could actually be useful in VR and AR applications. But why is Facebook, with its massive software portfolio, working on hardware like this in earnest? How much more “connected” should we all be to Facebook apps? And should we trust the company to handle our data responsibly?

This week on Gadget Lab, we interview Andrew Bosworth, Facebook’s vice president of augmented and virtual reality and the bigwig behind this prototype wearable. We press him on Facebook’s intent in making hardware, how that hardware can shape social interaction, and whether ever-present connected tech—especially the kind infused with algorithms—can truly be value-neutral these days.

Show Notes

Read more about Facebook’s wrist wearable here. Read Lauren’s story about how the internet won’t let her forget here. Read Mike’s review of the VacOne Coffee Air Brewer here. Read Boz’s blog here.

Recommendations

Boz recommends Hexclad pans. Lauren recommends Nomadland, which you can watch now on Hulu with a sub. Mike recommends season two of the podcast Cocaine & Rhinestones.

Andrew Bosworth can be found on Twitter @boztank. Lauren Goode is @LaurenGoode. Michael Calore is @snackfight. Bling the main hotline at @GadgetLab. The show is produced by Boone Ashworth (@booneashworth). Our theme music is by Solar Keys.

If you have feedback about the show, or just want to enter to win a $50 gift card, take our brief listener survey here.

How to Listen

You can always listen to this week’s podcast through the audio player on this page, but if you want to subscribe for free to get every episode, here’s how:

If you’re on an iPhone or iPad, open the app called Podcasts, or just tap this link. You can also download an app like Overcast or Pocket Casts, and search for Gadget Lab. If you use Android, you can find us in the Google Podcasts app just by tapping here. We’re on Spotify too. And in case you really need it, here’s the RSS feed.


More Great WIRED Stories





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News

Apple set to release long-awaited iOS update to restrict tracking by advertisers


Apple is about to give millions of iPhone users a choice: Allow Facebook and other apps running on Apple’s iOS platform to track your activity on your phone and online, or stop tracking altogether.

What will you choose?

Among the new features in Apple’s new iPhone software, iOS 14.5, is a major privacy update called App Tracking Transparency, which requires apps to request permission before gathering user or device data. Specifically, the update changes the Identifier for Advertisers (IDFA), a unique, random number assigned to each iPhone that allows advertisers and developers to track user behavior, including app usage and web browsing behavior. The IDFA is often used to personalize advertisements.

Apple is also releasing software updates for its other devices, including the iPad, Apple Watch, Mac computers and Apple TV. Apple is hosting an event on Tuesday where the company will announce product updates, and the software is expected to be available this week.

A spokesperson for Apple said the new privacy features were developed to “provide transparency and give users a choice if their data is tracked.” Apple requires all developers to adhere to the new policies, but will not require software makers to make the update immediately. 

Why Facebook objects

Facebook, Google and other big tech firms are unhappy with the changes.

In December, Facebook placed a full-page ad in the New York Times that claimed the user-tracking changes in iOS 14.5 would adversely affect small businesses. “[T]he average small business advertiser stands to see a cut of over 60% in their sales for every dollar they spend,” the Facebook ad stated.

A spokesman for Facebook was unable to verify the claim of a 60% loss to small business, but shared a Facebook blog post and video that asserts the Apple update will force developers to enable in-app purchases to make up for lost revenue. 

“It will force businesses to turn to subscriptions and other in-app payments for revenue, meaning Apple will profit and many free services will have to start charging or exit the market,” the blog post said. Facebook has previously warned advertisers that its ad network could become “ineffective” on Apple’s products.

Google does not plan to make similar changes to its Android operating system. The mobile OS has a similar device identification advertising feature called GPS ADID that allows advertisers on Android to personalize ads. The current version of Android also asks for one-time user permissions that enables app access to a phone’s location, camera and microphone.

A spokesperson for the company, which is owned by Alphabet, told CBS News, “We’re always looking for ways to work with developers to raise the bar on privacy while enabling a healthy, ad-supported app ecosystem.”

A boon for privacy

The Google Chrome web browser will start limiting or removing data shared with third-party tracking cookies by early 2022, according to a company spokesperson. Instead of tracking individuals, Google plans to allow targeted ads to groups of users with similar interests, a move that it says is less invasive but which privacy advocates have criticized.

Apple’s update is “the most significant improvement in digital privacy in the history of the internet. And it will kneecap Facebook,” Jason Kint, a privacy advocate and CEO of the advertising trade association Digital Content Next, said in a tweet.

AdWeek, a trade publication for the advertising industry, recently surveyed a number of small business advertisers and reported that “nobody really knows” what to expect from the iOS changes. 

Other experts are more positive. Apple’s policy is fair for both advertisers and consumers, said tech analyst Rene Ritchie. “It’s good for consumers. It’s not bad for advertisers. If we think of it in a consumer-centric way, [advertisers] have just had unfettered access to our data forever and it’s built up almost an entitlement to ownership of who we are and what we do online,” he told CBS News.

Ritchie said consumers have the right to keep private or to share mobile phone and browsing data. “This is our data. And it’s so valuable to [advertisers] that they’re willing to spend all this money, accumulating it and analyzing it, but we still own it,” he said.





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News

Encrypted messaging app Signal appears to be blocked in China


The Signal Messenger app is displayed on a smartphone in Hong Kong, China.

Roy Liu | Bloomberg | Getty Images

GUANGZHOU, China — Encrypted messaging app Signal has stopped working in China and is now only accessible via a virtual private network (VPN).

China blocks many foreign apps and services including those from Facebook and Google. But Signal had previously not been barred by the so-called Great Firewall.

Signal claims to be end-to-end encrypted, meaning the company itself nor any outsiders can view the contents of messages between a sender and the intended recipient. This also means authorities cannot snoop on messages.

CNBC tested Signal on three different devices and messages did not go through, suggesting it has been blocked by authorities. The app was still available for download via Apple’s China App Store.

Signal was not immediately available for comment when contacted by CNBC.

The messaging app, however, still worked when used with a VPN. A VPN or virtual private network allows users to protect privacy and circumvent internet restrictions by connecting to servers around the world.

Signal being blocked in China highlights the increasing internet censorship in the world’s second-largest economy.

Downloads of Signal surged earlier in the year after rival WhatsApp changed its terms of service to allow the sharing of some data with its parent company Facebook.

Signal is relatively small in China with 510,000 downloads to date from Apple’s App Store, according to Sensor Tower. But the app provided a rare avenue for sending encrypted messages through a foreign platform without a VPN.

Still, the dominant messaging app in China remains Tencent-owned WeChat with over a billion users.



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Future

After President Trump’s Online Ouster, What Is The Future Of Social Media? – WCCO


MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Last week, Facebook and Instagram blocked President Donald Trump; Snapchat indefinitely locked his account; and Twitter permanently suspended him from its site.

Amazon, Apple and Google pulled its technical support for Parler, a social media site favored by the far-right.

So, what might this tell us about the future of social media? WCCO spoke with Jane Kirtley, professor of media law and ethics at the University of Minnesota.

“Well, it’s a very interesting question, isn’t it,” Kirtley said. “Because if we believe that there are too few people controlling social media, you can see that there actually is a threat in the future that those social media companies could control a lot of the information and lot of the opinions the public has access to.”

Private sector organizations like Twitter, Facebook, Amazon and Google aren’t beholden to the protections of speech afforded by First Amendment like the United States government. They create user rules for themselves.

(credit: CBS)

“Do we trust these social media companies? Do we trust them to make those decisions?” Kirtley said. “I think that’s where the real questions are going to rise as we move throughout this year.”

Some experts say part of the reason the tech companies waited until now to limit President Trump is due to a fear of regulation from the government.

Josh Pasek, a professor of communications and media at the University of Michigan, says what’s ahead for these companies is a big unknown.

“They’re thinking they’d rather get ahead of some of that by policing the extreme stuff themselves,” Pasek said.

Lawmakers could repeal or reform Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. That says tech companies can’t be held liable for content created by someone else, and gives the companies themselves discretion on what to allow.

Kirtley said lawmakers could also try to break up what they see as monopolies.

“It is far more likely that a future justice department will go after them on anti-trust grounds,” Kirtley said. “They are vulnerable on that. They know they are, and they’re already being faced with lawsuits about that.”

Kirtley said what happens to the future of these social media sites is hard to know, and could be left up to the incoming Biden administration.

“I do not know, but I would anticipate that we will see new players in this field,” she said. “There’s going to be seen as basically a gap that needs to be filled, whether I come from the right or the left on the political spectrum.”



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Apple App Store customers spent record $540 million on New Year’s Day


A customer exits after picking up Apple’s new 5G iPhone 12 that went on sale, as the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak continues, at an Apple Store in Brooklyn, New York, October 23, 2020.

Brendan McDermid | Reuters

Apple‘s App Store customers spent a record $540 million on New Year’s Day alone, marking a 40% increase from last year, the company said Wednesday in its annual services report.

On top of that, Apple announced it generated $1.8 billion in App Store sales of digital good in the week between Christmas eve and now has 90 million monthly active users for its Apple Books app.

But the report didn’t provide updates on subscribers for its suite of newer subscription products like Apple TV+ (video streaming), Apple Music and Apple Fitness+ (a Peloton competitor). In the fall, Apple began bundling many of its subscription services together as part of its Apple One program. The Services category is a key growth area Apple has focused on in recent years as hardware sales growth has fallen.

Apple’s App Store update also comes as tensions continue to rise over Apple’s control over its App Store policies. Several app developers, most notably Facebook and Fortnite maker Epic Games, have publicly criticized Apple for taking a 30% cut of App Store sales from developers and for enforcing a new policy designed to disclose which apps track your data for targeted advertising. Apple recently altered its policies to take a 15% cut from companies that generate less than $1 million in App Store sales, which the company said was a move to help small businesses.

Overall, Apple’s Services generated revenue of $53.8 billion in the company’s last fiscal year, which ended in September 2021. Apple is expected to report its fiscal first quarter earnings in a few weeks.

Subscribe to CNBC on YouTube.



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