With enough effort, you can find virtually anything on the Internet. While that might seem like a good thing when you’re trying to dig up a specific funny cat video, not everything out there is so benign. Sometimes, it’s better to avoid delving too deeply into your Google search results; you never know what things are better off unseen.
In fact, there’s one creepy online threat that’s hiding in plain sight. Not only is it unsettling, but it’s also proving to be a serious threat to both people’s privacy and the future of world politics.
Imagine that you were absentmindedly browsing the Internet one evening after work. After checking your emails, maybe you decided to click over to Facebook. There, you saw something strange in your newsfeed.
There was a video of a celebrity, in this case Mark Zuckerberg, playing. At first, he seemed to be giving a standard interview about Facebook’s business practices. But then his presentation took a strange turn.
Wall Street Journal
Before long, he was explaining that he was the “one man with total control of billions of people’s stolen data, all their secrets, their lives, their futures.” He was, essentially, Big Brother from 1984. It sounded like a conspiracy theory; what was happening?
If the video seems unbelievable, that’s because it wasn’t really Zuckerberg speaking. In fact, the clip is emblematic of a troubling new digital trend, which realistically alters videos and takes aim at celebrities. It places everyone’s personal security at risk.
These videos, commonly known as deepfakes, sound like something out of a sci-fi movie. How could someone have created a fake video showing a public figure making outlandish claims without futuristic technology?
These videos follow the same principle as using Photoshop to manipulate pictures, just applied to a moving image. There is one crucial, dangerous difference between the two digital mediums, however.
Since manipulated images are static, there’s a limit to what they can depict; anything too outlandish makes the fake obvious. Doctored videos, however, can literally place words in someone’s mouth.
The idea of unsavory characters using your image as a digital puppet is undeniably creepy, but it still gets worse. These manipulated videos can be dangerous in a couple of concrete ways.
Even if a video is debunked as fake, a moving, talking image still has some staying power. That’s coming to the forefront in politics, where deepfakes can damage someone’s reputation with the voting public.
In May 2019, for example, someone created a spoof video of US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi slurring her words during a press conference. The creator had dramatically slowed down an actual clip of her talking, and it spread far and wide.
The video was even shared on Donald Trump’s Twitter account; that post alone was retweeted over 30,000 times. Even though the clip has been debunked, it still lodged itself in people’s memories.
Donald J. Trump/ Twitter
The manipulated media took on extra importance with elections approaching. “Deepfakes are one of the most alarming trends I have witnessed as a Congresswoman to date,” wrote US Congresswoman Yvette Clarke.
“If the American public can be made to believe and trust altered videos,” she continued, “our democracy is in grave danger. We need to work together to stop deepfakes from becoming the defining feature of the 2020 elections.”
The Wall Street Journal
But the videos’ manipulation of truth can also affect other facets of life. In fact, some legal experts are concerned that they will set a dangerous precedent in the courtroom.
Law and Order: SVU
If criminals can easily manipulate moving images, videos may become inadmissible evidence in the court of law. Unfortunately, many technology companies haven’t taken a stand to stop the spread of these dangerous deepfakes.
One common video manipulating program called FakeApp is readily available for download online. While it’s not the easiest to use, anyone can theoretically learn to create convincing deepfakes if they’re willing to practice.
Samsung engineers have also created their own algorithm capable of turning a single still photo into a clip of that person speaking. They tested it on photos of famous celebrities with chilling success.
While that algorithm isn’t public yet, the message is clear: the technology to create deepfakes exists and is uncomfortably accessible. There is one digital hope to fight against them, however.
While poorly made deepfakes are easy to identify, higher quality ones are less obvious. That’s why computer scientists at the University of Albany came up with a new plan to fight fire with fire.
They created their own algorithm, built to identify instances in which the manipulating software has digitally transformed an video. This allows the program to flag deepfakes, ideally preventing their proliferation.
But until that logarithm becomes widely spread, what’s the best way to combat deepfakes? It comes down to technological literacy; everyone should learn that what they see on the Internet isn’t always real.
While deepfakes are definitely nefarious, they’re not the only image manipulation targeting your privacy. In fact, there might be a sneakily dangerous app lurking right in plain sight on your cell phone.
In 2017, a photo-transformation program called FaceApp hit the marketplace, and two years later it exploded into a viral phenomenon. But the app’s creators were hiding a secret that people were never made aware of.
The main draw of the app was users’ ability to take photos of themselves and completely change how they looked. They could swap their gender or change their hairstyle with the press of a button. That wasn’t all either.
The feature that gained the most attention in 2019 was the aging simulator. In vividly realistic detail, it applied a layer to selfies to simulate what the subject would look like as an old timer.
The results were impressive, if not a little bit creepy. Once FaceApp caught on in the celebrity community, stars shared the hilarious pics of their older selves. It then spread like wildfire.
New York Post
From then on, everybody was downloading the app and sharing their augmented photos online. It became so popular so fast that hardly anyone stopped to consider they were putting their futures at risk.
Every app comes with terms and conditions, though users seldom stop to read through them. With so many of these agreements practically reaching the length of a novel, who has the time?
However, Faceapp fans missed one catch buried in the legalese. It stated that developers owned the rights to any user photos — possibly any in users’ photo libraries as well. When this news broke, many panicked when they learned where the images were going.
These photos were all going to Russia, home of the company Wireless Labs. An international tech firm is no big deal in the modern age, but many Americans found this connection troubling.
The Russian government wasn’t afraid to bend technology — and the law — to their advantage. It was entirely possible this FaceApp fad was a way to trick the West into signing away their images.
Many tech experts sounded off on the grave implications. In the wrong hands, these photos could be used to build a massive information database or train artificial intelligence facial recognition. It got worse.
Experts fear the database — or similar tech — is the first very steps in creating a dystopian world similar to that seen George Orwell’s 1984. People willingly signed away their photos to a “Big Brother” organization just to take funny photos!
Will there be other apps or technologies in the future that ask for even more from us — like text messages or locations? By then, will we be comfortable giving up that information, too? These problems caught the eyes of powerful people in the U.S. government.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer didn’t take these warnings lightly. He recognized this fad as a potential crisis and demanded an explanation. After all, popular apps have misused data in the past.
Pokemon Go, for instance, previously came under fire for collecting user information and location date so the creators could sell it to third-party companies. That was purely for profit, but FaceApp could be aiming for political leverage.
In the hands of Russian hackers, Schumer warned, millions of Americans could be at risk. Even scarier, there didn’t appear to be any way for FaceApp users to protect themselves after downloading the app.
Deleting the app — or destroying your cell phone — wouldn’t do a thing. Wireless Labs already added all those photos to their cloud the moment users downloaded FaceApp. However, someone stepped forward to offer an explanation.
YouTube / MaxTechChannel
Yaroslav Goncharov, founder of Wireless Labs, assured the world that FaceApp wasn’t behaving nefariously. He promised that his company wasn’t giving data to the Russian government and explained that most photos got deleted from their cloud after 48 hours.
The Globe Post
Still, Yaroslav’s guarantee wasn’t enough for Senator Schumer. Calling upon the FBI to launch an official investigation into FaceApp, he explained that its security concerns could particularly endanger a select group of American citizens.
If the Kremlin did pull the strings on FaceApp, it would be a disaster for the future President to be implicated. That’s why Schumer pleaded with all 2020 candidates, as well as the larger public, to steer clear of the trend.
While it remains to be seen whether or not FaceApp is an actual threat, there is an easy way to protect your data. Simply stop downloading new apps, or just put your cellphone away! You might actually enjoy the real world.
Besides, there’s an easy way to find out what you’ll look like when you’re older. Wait! Time moves rapidly enough as it is, so no need to speed up the effects of aging. Nevertheless, the FaceApp bandwagon is difficult to stop.
Tons of users, famous or not, continue to share their older doppelgängers. Some of the world’s most iconic celebs have been enjoying the app — and fans are going crazy for more. And when you see some of the best, it’s easy to see why.
1. Courteney Cox: As hard as it is to imagine the ‘Friends’ star out of a crop top and the 90s, It’s probably about time we all face the facts. At least all those years in comedy paid off, looks like Monica has some hard earned laugh lines to look forward to.
2. Ryan Gosling: When it comes to signature looks, it’s hard to compete with Ryan’s signature smolder. But even that iconic stare must fall when confronted by age. Good thing he still looks good in grey.
3. Kate Middleton: The Duchess of Cambridge is one of the most iconic beauties. Unfortunately, it looks like all that royal business catches up with her. But by the time she looks like this, she’ll have most likely taken over the title of Queen Consort, so she’s probably not complaining.
4. Prince George: Speaking of future royals, if this little prince takes after his grandma, we’ll all see the day when he is looking something like this. Hopefully he’ll sprout a few more inches so he can live up to his royal highness.
5. LeBron James: LeBron’s infamous hairline has always given him a bit of a more mature look. No doubt he’s still on the court, playing beside his grandson, putting up 30 points per night.
6. Miley Cyrus: Miley definitely seems to have kept her cool; she’s even giving off a bit of a Madam Secretary vibe. Secretary Cyrus could definitely negotiate a ceasefire and then meet the British ambassador for lunch — all before noon!
7. Hilary Duff: It turns out even Lizze McGuire isn’t wrinkle-proof. At least girl is still keeping it fresh by rocking those hoops. Age ain’t nothing but a number after all…
8. Lady Gaga: Everyone’s favorite glam girl has been keeping it funky and fresh for over decade now. Looking forward, it seems that we can still put our money on this silver foxy to keep it up. Some people really are just born a star.
9. Justin Bieber: The Biebs has gone through a lot of looks during his career, but this future “dad going through a midlife crisis” thing we’re not so sure about. Unfortunately, we think it is too late now to say sorry.
10. Barack Obama: The 44th U.S. President loves basketball, so he managed to stay in shape. But even so, holding office has some crazy aging effects. And father time can do even more damage than overseeing a powerful nation, apparently.
11. Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson: His workout and diet routines are legendary (seriously, he eats 10 pounds of cod per day), and he’s clearly in great shape. But even his immense strength can’t hold back Father Time.
12. Meghan Markel: She captured the world’s attention after marrying into the Royal Family. It’s too bad the pressures of Duchess life will eventually take their toll. But hey if a little sunken-in face is the price to live like a royal, sign us up!
13. Betty White: The Golden Girls actress is a true icon, and at her age, she’s still looking pretty incredible. But what happens when she goes from old to really old? Woof. We’re sorry, Betty.
14. Beyoncé: When it comes to the pop culture landscape, no one’s bigger than Queen Bee. But what does age do to her royal looks? Well the aging tech just reveals she can still kick your butt regardless of her age. Bow down.
15. Harry Potter: Wait, wait, wait. Isn’t there supposed to be some kind of polyjuice potion that makes you stay young forever? If Harry Potter can’t figure it out, there really is no hope for the rest of us.
16: Emma Stone: When you’re named one of Time’s Most Influential People, you know you’ve had a pretty impressive run. But on the personal front, will Emma’s looks hold up as well as her career? You decide.
17. Kim Kardashian: You better believe that Kim Kardashian isn’t being seen in public looking anything less than her best. In the future, however, a visit to Dr. Fisher is 100% on the cards.
18. Kanye West: He’s looking more like a grandpa, but he still has that intense focus in his eyes. He’s undoubtedly the type to tell you about how rap music was better back in his day.
19. Gigi Hadid: Older Gigi’s fashion is on point, but her skin has taken a toll from all those bright, hot runway lights. Well, any skin care regimen crumbles over time.
20. Eminem: Remember when Eminem burst onto the scene with bleached blonde hair and baggy pants? Well he’s matured a bit since then. He’ll definitely join Kanye in complaining about the golden years of rap.
21. Drake: Drake might still be hanging with the biggest stars, but with a little help from our aging technology, he appears to have progressed from “sad boy” to “sad grandpa.” His hair’s still looking good, too.
22. Cardi B: Cardi’s still rocking the bright colors, but age has gotten to her face. In fact, this look is giving us a bit of a technicolor Disney villain vibe. Look out, Dalmatians.
23. Cristiano Ronaldo: While Cristiano’s body is probably still in great shape, age has taken its toll on his face. Still, hopefully he shares that workout routine, ’cause that six pack’s gotta be impressive.
24. Pete Davidson: The Saturday Night Live star has been cycling though a few different looks lately, but he’s yet to try the old age aesthetic. Let’s see how that will work out.
25. Ariana Grande: To be fair, the former Disney star has aged pretty gracefully; other than some wrinkles, she could step right onto the stage in her golden years. If the voice holds her, the career will, too.
26. Taylor Swift: Taylor Swift has fully transitioned from the girl in the bleachers to a total stage mom. The giant sequins even fit the look perfectly — she’s definitely bringing orange slices to her kids’ soccer games.
27. Gaten Matarazzo: Honestly? Gaten actually doesn’t look so out of place as a grandpa; maybe he’s got some future roles as a kindly old man coming down the pipeline. What about his pal, though?
28. Finn Wolfhard: Age has really done some strange things to Finn. While his hair is still going strong, his face is definitely starting to show some wear and tear, giving him a Howard Stern mixed with a grandma look.
29. Selena Gomez: Even in the future, the former Nickelodeon star is still looking pretty screen ready. To be fair, she was always one of the more composed young stars — and it’s paid off in the skin-care department.
30. Harry Styles: Harry has cool dad look in his future. Look for this guy on the One Direction revival tour, coming summer 2036. Will the ladies still be screaming for him?