Monday 2 September 2019 9:39 am

What is Zao? The Chinese ‘deepfake’ face-swapping app that’s gone viral

A controversial face-swapping app has provoked a major privacy row after going viral in China over the weekend.

Zao, a new app that can place anyone inside their favourite TV show or movie by using a selfie, has sparked fresh concerns over so-called deepfake technology in the wake of its swift rise to the top of China’s download charts.

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Developed by Momo, the same firm behind popular Chinese dating app Tantan, the product became an overnight sensation after launching on Friday.

However, the mass downloads swiftly prompted concerns over privacy issues and the fabrication of real footage of people – an issue that has already risen to prominence with the rise of deepfake videos that use AI technology to alter video content.

Chinese messaging app WeChat temporarily disabled access to the app from the platform with the display message: “The web page has security risks and has been reported by many people. Access has been denied.”

Zao has subsequently said on Weibo that it would address those concerns.

“We thoroughly understand the anxiety people have towards privacy concerns,” the firm said.

It added: “We have received the questions you have sent us. We will correct the areas we have not considered and require some time.”

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Customers using ZAO can upload images of their face using photographs from their phone which they can then superimpose on a range of celebrities in videos taken from films and TV clips.

The app can also be used to superimpose faces into popular memes as well.