In the midst of allegations and warnings from the US that TikTok might be a spy app used by the Chinese intelligence that could endanger national security, ByteDance, the parent company of the popular video sharing social media app seems to have courted yet another controversy after it reportedly built a feature that lets users create their own deepfakes.
According to a TechCrunch report, a feature referred to as 'Face Swap' has been spotted in code in both TikTok and the Chinese version of the TikTok app called Douyin. The feature, as suggested by the name, works by swapping faces by asking users to scan their face and transferring their image onto other peoples faces in other videos.
Face Swap or Deepfake?
Although it may seem that the feature could just be an improved feature of similar face swapping technology, it could be misused by the users for sinister purposes. The face swapping tech built by ByteDance can be easily related to deepfake – a technology which is used to create fake voices and images using artificial intelligence by cybercriminals and bad actors with the intent of stealing important information, or simply causing harm.
What about the users' biometric data?
The TechCrunch report also raises concerns about the feature's ability to scan the user's face for creating the fake, thereby raising questions about what the company could do with the sensitive biometric data thus gathered.
The code was found in both apps by Israeli security firm Watchful.ai, known to having discovered several malicious apps in the past. Although, the Chinese software firm assures that its Face Swap feature is safe and secure, making the tech accessible to everyone seems like a bad idea as it could be used by some bad actors in aiding their criminal activities.
TikTok's current fate
TikTok is constantly adding new features to lure in more users and retain existing ones. The app has more than 500 million active monthly users worldwide and was the most downloaded app on Apple's App store in Q1 2019. But it is also facing allegations from the US government for spying, which makes the new feature seem a little suspicious.
With Deepfakes, which will reportedly be a serious cybersecurity threat in 2020 added to the mix, the idea becomes all the more dangerous. However, it's still unclear whether the feature will be released on the Chinese version Douyin or on TikTok but as mentioned earlier, the code is present in both.
Meanwhile, a TikTok spokesperson has told TechCrunch that the deepfake feature is "definitely not a function in TikTok, nor do we have the intention of introducing it." TikTok has also said that it will remove the remaining inactive fragments of the code to avoid confusion. So, all's well in TikTok town, at least for now.