China will introduce laws governing the use of deep synthesis technology in January 2023. Deepfakes, which use artificial intelligence to manipulate images and videos, worry Beijing as it tightens its grip on online content.
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In January, China will introduce a first-of-its-kind crackdown on “deepfakes,” increasing its control over Internet content.
Deepfakes are synthetic or altered images or videos created using artificial intelligence. The technology can be used to alter an existing video, for example by superimposing a politician’s face on an existing video or creating a fake speech.
The result is fake media that looks real but isn’t.
Beijing announced rules governing “deep synthesis technologies” earlier this year and finalized them in December. They will be effective from January 10.
Here are some important conditions:
- Users must provide consent if their image is to be used in any Deep Synthesis technology.
- Deep synthesis services cannot use technology to spread fake news.
- Deepfake services require users to authenticate their true identity.
- Synthetic content must have some form of notification to inform users that the image or video has been altered using technology.
- Content that violates existing laws, such as content that endangers national security and interests, damages national image, or disrupts the economy, is prohibited.
The regulator behind these laws is China’s powerful Cyberspace Administration.
Since the late 2020s, China has sought to rein in the power of the country’s tech giants, imposing greater controls in areas ranging from antitrust to data protection. But it has tried to regulate emerging technologies and is more advanced than any other country in its technological laws.
Earlier this year, China introduced a law restricting how tech firms can use recommendation algorithms.
Analysts say the law serves two purposes – stricter online censorship and ahead of regulations around new technologies.
“Chinese authorities are clearly eager to suppress the ability of anti-regime elements to use deepfakes of senior leaders, including Xi Jinping, to spread anti-regime statements,” Paul Triolo, technology policy lead at consulting firm Albright Stonebridge, told CNBC. .
“But the rules also show that Chinese authorities are trying to tackle tough online content problems the way some other countries do, trying to get around the curve as new technologies like AI-generated content begin to proliferate online.”
AI restrictions introduced by Beijing in recent years are “designed to keep content control and censorship efforts one step ahead of emerging technologies, ensuring that Beijing can continue to anticipate the emergence of technologies that can be used to circumvent the overall control system.”
Deep synthesis technology isn’t all bad. It could have some good applications across fields like education and health care.
But trying to deal with China’s negative role in creating fake news.
Kendra Schaefer, a Beijing-based partner at the Trivium China consultancy, pointed CNBC to a note she published in February when the draft rules were announced, in which she discussed the implications of the landmark regulation.
“What’s interesting is that China is targeting 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 distinguishing truth from lies,” the note said.
Through the introduction of regulation, China’s various regulatory agencies are building experience in implementing technology laws. Some parts of the deepfake regulation are unclear, such as how to prove that you have consent to use someone else’s image. But overall, China’s existing regulatory system will help enforce the rules, Trivium said in its note.
“China can impose these rules because it has mechanisms to control the transmission of content in online spaces and regulatory bodies that enforce these rules,” the note said.