With growing concerns about fake news, rumors, bullying, and financial fraud, China has taken steps to regulate deepfake technology. Its cyberspace regulator has received 110 applications from Chinese technology companies such as Huawei (HWT.UL) and Alibaba (9988. HK) for approvals related to models that can be used to manipulate visual and audio data.
The companies need the approvals to comply with rules set out in December by the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) that govern the use of deepfake technology. The specialized regulation ensures that deepfake technology is used responsibly, preventing it from being misused to spread misinformation or incite social unrest.
While the rules are still in draft form, they would require businesses that offer deepfake services to obtain consent from users before creating digital recreations of them and to clearly label such content to avoid confusion on the part of the public. They must also authenticate users’ real identities and establish and improve rumor refutation mechanisms. The government believes the new rules will protect people’s rights and interests, especially privacy rights.
Some aspects of the new regulations echo the areas being addressed in international efforts to establish standards for synthetic media. These include building secure data pipelines to protect privacy, fostering algorithmic transparency to understand security vulnerabilities and how bias creeps in, and clearly labeling deepfake content. These issues are being discussed in the EU’s AI Act and Digital Services Act, as well as in various state and federal laws in the US, Ajder said.
However, the Chinese regulations appear to go further by making the CCP the ultimate arbiter of what is real and false online, she added. In contrast, the First Amendment protection of freedom of speech in the United States would likely prevent attempts to impose draconian restrictions on deepfakes deemed illegal or harmful.
It’s unclear when the applications will be approved or what specific criteria the CAC will use to evaluate them. However, the number of submissions indicates the level of interest and investment in deepfake technologies by the country’s tech companies.
For example, Alibaba is a global giant that offers e-commerce platforms, cloud computing infrastructure, logistics services, and fulfillment networks. Its annual revenue last year was $136.7 billion, up 71% from five years ago. Huawei, meanwhile, is the world’s second-largest smartphone maker and a leading supplier of mobile network gear.
But sustained hostility in the United States and rising regulatory scrutiny in China have pushed some Chinese tech companies to look elsewhere for markets. Some have branched out internationally with offices in the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America. The effectiveness of the new Chinese guidelines will be an important indicator of whether those investments are wise. A failure will push them to look for other markets that provide a more welcoming environment.