Pornographic deepfakes online becoming a problem in Vietnam

By Khuong Nha   April 24, 2023 | 12:49 am PT
Pornographic deepfakes online becoming a problem in Vietnam
A Telegram group chat that provides deepfake services. Photo by VnExpress/Khuong Nha
Ha An, 22, says she was scared when naked bodies with her face superimposed on them spread on social media like Twitter and groups on Telegram.

The blogger says: "I turned red on seeing those photos. I never took them, it was just my face being edited in."

She had to close down her social media accounts after friends kept asking her about the deepfake images and videos online, and she was worried her family might see them.

She discovered that the photos and videos came from a Telegram group chat.

"A member of the group chat sent my photos to a service that could digitally remove my clothes for just VND25,000 ($1.06). There are over 2,000 members in the group, and so even when the photos were retracted, some people had already downloaded and shared them elsewhere."

An is hardly the only victim, and in fact hundreds of similar photos are created every day. For just a few thousand dong anyone can send pictures of anyone and create similar deepfakes.

Deepfakes utilize AI technologies to digitally alter images and videos, for example by altering one's face to resemble another's. Such a technique has been used to create pornographic videos falsely purporting to involve celebrities.

Nguyen Anh Tuan, the tech director of an AI startup, says deepfakes are becoming an issue as AIs keep getting better and more popular.

"Deepfakes themselves are not new, but with the advancement of technology, apps can deal with them quickly and with quite high levels of realism."

Technology powered by AI can do more than just swap faces; it can also "undress" a person once the AI has learned from the large volumes of data on nude bodies, he explains.

The more people use apps to download such photos, the more data AIs could learn from to improve themselves, he adds.

Si Duc, a provider of such digital undressing service, signed up for a deepfake app at just US$10 a month and then find customers on social media platforms like Twitter and Telegram.

Duc says: "Some apps support Vietnamese, and so creating the images is easy. You just need to upload 3-4 pictures with clear faces and bodies, and the AI can create a deepfake, pornographic photo in minutes."

A photo costs around VND20,000 to create, and a minute-long video, VND250,000-500,000.

Tuan says: "Anyone can become a victim of pornographic deepfakes."

Security experts say such images, though likely to be forgotten over time, will exist forever on the Internet and victims do not always get the chance to explain themselves.

"A joke can blow over in 1-2 weeks, but years later my loved ones can still find my photos on the Internet. I can also get blacklisted when applying for jobs."

Ha Hai, a lawyer and a member of the HCMC Bar Association, says people who alter photos and videos of other people and fake images and information can be charged with multiple crimes.

Tuan says one way to prevent deepfakes is to refrain from posting portraits publicly on social media.

If one finds their deepfaked photos online, people should contact the platforms for removal and collect evidence to send to authorities if needed, he adds.

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