China to rein in deepfake tech starting next month. Here's what the new rules entail.

China to rein in deepfake tech starting next month. Here’s what the new rules entail.A AFP journalist views a video on January 25, 2019, manipulated with artificial intelligence to potentially deceive viewers, or “deepfake” at his newsdesk in Washington, DC. – “Deepfake” videos that manipulate reality are becoming more sophisticated and realistic as a result of advances in artificial intelligence, creating a potential for new kinds of misinformation with devastating consequences. (Photo by Alexandra ROBINSON / AFP) / TO GO WITH AFP STORY by Rob LEVER “Misinformation woes may multiply with ‘deepfake’ videos”

China to rein in deepfake tech starting next month. Here’s what the new rules entail

  • The country is looking to more tightly scrutinize so-called “deepfake” technology and services starting January 10, 2023.
  • The Chinese internet regulator is concerned that unchecked use of deepfakes could lead to its use in criminal activities.
  • The rule basically requires deep synthesis service providers and users to make sure any doctored content using the technology is explicitly labeled and can be traced back to its source.

In recent years, there has been a new technology that makes it possible to create videos of a person doing or saying anything the creator wants, called deepfake. All that’s needed is an image of a person and artificial intelligence and machine learning will then make it possible to show that person doing almost anything. The technology is no doubt revolutionary in terms of technological advancement—but it has been alarming for governments around the world.

That is why, since the beginning of this year, China has been pushing, even ahead of the European Union and the United States, with new synthetic content regulations. On Jan 28, 2022, China’s State Internet Information Office released the “Provisions on the Administration of Deep Synthesis Internet Information Services”. The proposal was basically a draft of regulations for deep synthesis technology, an umbrella term covering “text, images, audio, video, virtual scenes, or other information” created with generative models.

The proposal reflects how the Chinese Communist Party is prepared to protect itself against the unique threats of emerging technologies. This week, it was reported that the Administrative Provisions on Deep Synthesis for Internet Information Service will take effect on January 10. It was co-published on November 25 by the Cyberspace Administration of China, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology and the Public Security Ministry.

The Provisions is an elaboration on the 2019 “Regulations on the Administration of Online Audio and Video Information Services,” which broadly banned the use of machine-generated images, audio, and video to create or spread “rumors”. The new regulations, however, are aimed at deep synthesis service providers and emphasize cybersecurity, real-name verification of users, data management, marking of synthetic content to alert viewers and “dispelling rumors”.

What does the new deepfake regulation in China mean?

For starters, one of the most notorious applications of deep synthesis technology is deepfakes, where synthetic media is used to swap the face or voice of one person for another. Under the new law, deep synthesis service providers and users are required to make sure any doctored content using the deepfake technology is explicitly labeled and can be traced back to its source. If using the technology to edit someone’s image or voice, the person in question should be notified and their consent obtained, according to the regulations. 

When reposting news made by the technology, the source can only be from the government-approved list of news outlets, which was last updated in October with 1,358 names, South China Morning Post noted. Deepfake service providers are also urged to abide by local laws, respect ethics, and maintain the “correct political direction and correct public opinion orientation”, according to the new law. 

The CAC said the move was aimed at curbing risks that might arise from activities provided by such platforms that use deep learning or virtual reality to alter any online content, and to also promote the industry’s healthy development. The fact that China’s proposed regulations go beyond deepfakes to include generated text, image enhancement and virtual scenes indicates that the government is thinking more broadly about how emerging technology could impact the stability of its regime.

If the new rules in China are successful, it could lay down a policy framework other nations could adapt. Globally, certain US states like New Jersey and Illinois have introduced local privacy legislation that addresses deepfakes, however, the lack of any meaningful federal privacy laws limits regulators’ abilities to address the tech on a national level. Within the private sector, major US platforms like Facebook and Twitter have created new systems meant to detect and flag deepfakes.