Impressions, the app that allows users to create deepfakes right from their iPhone, has removed the ability to mimic President Donald Trump ahead of the 2020 election.
The company announced its decision in a statement this week and pointed to a California law intended to keep manipulated media from interfering in the political process.
“In accordance with California law regarding the coming presidential election, we have removed Donald Trump from our platform,” the company said. “While the law only requires us to remove Donald Trump for users from California, in order to stay true to our commitment to deepfake ethics, we have removed Donald Trump from the platform for all users.”
Signed into law last year by Democratic Gov. Gavin Newson, AB 730 prohibits distributing “with actual malice” manipulated content designed to deceive voters within 60 days of an election.
The law makes exceptions for media featuring political figures that is either clearly satire or includes a notice stating that the content was artificially generated.
The Impressions app allows users to transform themselves into dozens of different celebrities including actors Mark Wahlberg and Brad Pitt as well as musicians Billie Eilish and Cardi B.
Speaking with the Daily Dot, Impressions CEO Murat Deligoz stated that the decision to temporarily remove Trump was made in light of the company’s views towards deepfake ethics.
“When we started building Impressions, we built it with a deepfake ethics first mentality,” Deligoz said. “We’ve used all possible resources available to ensure that our application is used to push deepfakes as entertainment.”
Deligoz stressed that Impressions had planned to remove Trump entireely well in advance and was not asked to do so by any outside group.
“We had no contact with any government officials or pressure from outside parties to do so,” he said. “We did it because as the first deepfake application of our kind we believe that it’s our role to set the ethical standards.”
Impressions says Trump will return to the app following the presidential election. At current, only former politicians, such as Barack Obama, are available on Impressions.
It remains unclear whether any other deepfake tools intend to take similar action at this time, although most other consumer apps do not store pre-trained models of celebrity faces like Impressions.
Giorgio Patrini, the CEO and founder of deepfake-monitoring service Sensity, told the Daily Dot that the move by Impressions shows ethical sensibility but ultimately will do little to stop political misinformation.
While much attention has been given to deepfakes over the past several years, the technology has not produced the political fallout that many have feared. Even though more-complex deepfake tools are still widely available online, Patrini notes that issues as simple as altered videos and photoshopped images remain a much more potent threat.
“Videos deceptively edited with low-end tools and misleading video montages are dominating the discourse on social media in the past days and weeks,” he said. “A testament that photo-realism or technical sophistication are not a top requirement to do harm in this context.”
Just this week House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) tweeted out a deceptively edited video, which he later deleted, that was ultimately labeled as “manipulated media” by Twitter.
The video showed a conversation between progressive activist Ady Barkan and former Vice President Joe Biden regarding police funding. The video was edited to make it appear as if Barkan, who speaks with computer-generated voice, used words that he actually hadn’t.
The video was just one of four recently shared by high-profile individuals connected to Trump that were either deceptively edited or taken out of context.
*First Published: Sep 2, 2020, 2:05 pm
Mikael Thalen is a tech and security reporter based in Seattle, covering social media, data breaches, hackers, and more.