ByteDance hides code in TikTok for feature that makes deepfakes

ByteDance has secretly built a deepfake maker, with the code for the feature hidden in the latest version of its massively popular video app TikTok.

The secret feature was discovered by Watchful.ai, according to TechCrunch. The Israeli in-app market research startup found the code in the Android versions of TikTok and its Chinese sister app Douyin. Watchful was able to activate the code in Douyin to test the feature, which is not yet available to the public.

The feature requests that users scan their faces at multiple angles and while doing various actions such as blinking, nodding, and opening and closing their mouths. This will allow the apps to gather enough data to manipulate the users’ faces into various scenes and situations.

Users will then be able to inject their faces into a deepfake after choosing from a collection of videos offered by the feature. The result may then be shared or downloaded, though it will have a watermark to signify that it is not real footage.

According to TechCrunch, videos shared by Watchful using ByteDance’s deepfake maker were “quite seamless” with the face swapping, with motion tracking, color blending, and expressions that “all look very convincing.”

However, when TechCrunch reached out to TikTok to inquire about the deepfake maker, a spokesperson denied that the feature is a part of the app, and stated that there is no plan to launch it. “The inactive code fragments are being removed to eliminate any confusion,” the spokesperson added.

A spokesperson for Douyin, meanwhile, failed to clarify whether the feature will be launched in China.

ByteDance is not the first social media company to look into a more consumer-focused version of the controversial deepfake technology. Recently, Snapchat was spotted testing a similar feature named Snapchat Cameos in certain international markets, with a global launch expected soon.

TikTok has been at the center of several issues, including scrutiny as “a potential counterintelligence threat,” an investigation into its $1 billion purchase of Musical.ly, and a class-action lawsuit that claims the app illegally transfers user data to China. With the potential of deepfake videos to inflict harm to others, ByteDance may be distancing itself from the technology for now, despite the seemingly completed hidden feature.

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