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New app raises privacy concern Reuters

New Chinese artificial Intelligence app, Zao which looks like any other face-swapping app subsequently triggered a backlash from media over the apparent lack of data privacy protections.

Zao was first released on August 30 and became the top application on both Android and iPhone app stores in China. But users soon began to criticize this app for its loss of data privacy protection. As a result the social media app WeChat reportedly banned users from sharing videos created using the Zao.

It also raised concerns due to another feature which allows a user to upload photos of themselves and superimpose their faces on clips of celebrities or anyone else. It indicates that there is a possibility of sharing manipulated videos or images which could spread misinformation.

Zao
Zao app YouTube grab

As per the city newspaper The Beijing News, "right now it's very difficult to determine whether the software operator's collection of human facial data and authorization are malicious, but netizens' concerns are understandable."

The Zao app was developed by a unit that's majority-owned by online social networking platform Momo. As per the reports, it is also the latest example of "deepfake" which is the ability to manipulate videos or digital representations with the help of computers and software to make those media contents appear to be real when they are not. Many people have raised concerns over how it could influence elections with false information.

The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, China stated in the social media platform, WeChat that it is important to strengthen the security assessment of new technologies and businesses and guard against network fraud and other hidden dangers.

On the other hand, Zao said in a statement on Tuesday, September 3 that from a professional standpoint, it is impossible for this AI technology to pose a security threat to facial recognition payment.

The company said on Weibo that it will not store personal biometric information, since it has become key to personal security given its use for passwords. It also mentioned that once a user deletes an account, it will follow the "required rules and laws" in handling that user's information.

However, Ziyang Fan, head of digital trade at the World Economic Forum, told CNBC: "This backlash shows that the concept of data privacy is gaining ground in China, and increasingly users are less willing to trade privacy for convenience or entertainment."

"We may expect to see more heightened awareness from both users and companies in China on data privacy in the future," Fan further added.

As a response to the huge backlash, this Chinese app has changed its privacy policy on September 3.