What is Deepfake Porn? Is It Legal? How Can You Spot It?

by Chris Von Wilpert, BBusMan • Last updated November 28, 2023

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What is deepfake porn?

Deepfake porn is AI-generated explicit content in which someone's face is swapped on pornographic images or videos. It is essentially fake porn, that looks highly realistic.

Deepfake porn fast facts

  • AI is not the first technology that first scared people off and then to be massively embraced to create pornography. 

  • Deepfake porn challenges the boundaries between free speech and privacy.

  • Anyone and their step-mother can create fake porn without technical knowledge.

  • The battle against deepfakes is fought with the same technology that creates it.

  • As with all technology, deepfake porn can be used with good and bad intentions.

Should we be afraid of deepfakes?

The fear of deepfake technology is normal. Humans have always been afraid of new inventions. In the 19th century, for instance, photography and motion pictures were first perceived as witchcraft. And then, people found out they could create adult content with it.

Humans haven’t changed a lot since then. Today, fake porn is the most popular application of AI deepfake technology. There is nothing to be afraid of, as long as it is not used with malicious intentions.

Alas, people behave recklessly online and anyone can use AI deepfake apps. The most scary thing about fake porn is that there is no watertight legal framework to protect the privacy and reputation of individuals.

The first erotic movie “Le Coucher de la Mariée”, translated as “Bedtime for the Bride”. The movie made its debut in Paris in November 1896, within one year after the very first public screening of a projected motion picture. Photograph: YouTube

Can anyone create deepfake porn?

Today, everyone and their step-mom can generate fake porn online without technical knowledge. Free AI deepfake apps even lower the barrier to generate adult content at a high scale.

Online AI porn tools, such as PornJourney, DeepSwap, NudifyOnline and SoulGen have become popular in no time. They create highly realistic undress images, face swaps, and even fake sex videos from a few pictures users upload to their account. 

Something that’s easy to use, also makes it easy to forget there may be unwanted consequences when using images of anyone to create fake erotic or porn content.

Do you need permission to deepfake someone?

Deepfakes are often considered as an expression of free speech and that implies no permission is required. Seeing one’s own face on the body of the Rock or Jeniffer Lopez may be hilarious. However, using the face of somebody else without their consent is something different.

From a moral point of view, the only right thing is to ask someone permission before uploading pictures of them to AI tools. Especially hardcore or softcore fake content can have devastating consequences.

From a legal point of view, things are more foggy. Whether you need permission to deepfake someone depends on the type of generated AI content, the intentions, and the local legislation.

So, how illegal is deepfake porn?

South-Korea and the UK are leading the way in deepfake porn legislation. In both countries, so-called Nonconsensual Pornographic Deepfakes (NPDs) are criminal offenses. That is also the case in countries where any form pornography is illegal.

Although deepfakes have been around for years, many countries are still busy investigating how to adapt the law to address this phenomenon. Other countries are one step further and in the process of formulating the legislation.

In the US, for instance, the federal law penalizes non-consensual human pornography. But it doesn’t say a word about deepfake porn yet.

Users who search for “deepfake” on PornHub get a warning they may be looking for illegal content. The adult entertainment industry is ahead of deepfake legislation. Photograph: PornHub

Which US states forbid deepfake porn?

Texas, California, and Virginia are the first US states that signed bills targeting deepfake porn. But as is always the case with laws at state level, they target different aspects of deepfake porn.

In California, victims of fake porn can sue anyone who shares the content. In case of a conviction, the perpetrator can get a fine. It is up to the victim to prove that the fake explicit images or movies were distributed with malicious intentions. 

In Viriginia, someone who gets convicted of sharing non-consual deepfake porn can be condemned to jail time. 

Texas has the most strict law. Since the 1st of September 2023, producing and distributing deepfake porn or fake explicit images without consent is a criminal offense.

Are explicit deepfakes detectable, anyway?

Yes. AI is not flawless and you can sometimes even notice with the naked eye if the explicit content is real or fake. Following suspicious details are typical of deepfakes:

  • Hands that look deformed 
  • Too much or little fingers, toes or teeth.
  • Skin that looks too smooth or has strange color gradations.
  • Lip synching that doesn’t correspond with the audio.
  • Eyes that keep staring without blinking.
  • Face distortions, such as eyebrows, glasses and even earrings that look odd.
  • Background elements that look blurry, abstract, or out of place.
  • Shadows that fall in the wrong direction.
  • Etc.

All those elements may give a clue if images and movies are real, or generated by AI.

Can software detect deepfakes?

Yes. Certain programs can detect deepfakes, but none of them achieves a 100% accuracy rate. Real content can be wrongly interpreted as deepfake, and the reverse. 

Sentinel by Microsoft and FakeCatcher by Intel are two of the most advanced deepfake detection tools. They both use AI algorithms and models, so the software can improve by learning. One 

Battling deepfakes with the technology that is used to create it is the only option. After all, the tools that generate the fake content get better by the day and make it harder to detect deepfakes.

FakeCatcher is an AI tool developed by Intel. It analyzes the blood flow in videos on pixel size to look for anomalies that can indicate that it is a deepfake. Photograph: FakeCatcher

Why are deepfakes becoming harder to detect?

AI deepfake tools have learning capabilities like humans. Like us, they can only improve when three conditions are met. The speed at which it happens is amazing and that explains why deepfakes are getting more realistic and hence harder to detect.

First, new algorithms are being developed. The matter is complex, but deepfake technology mainly uses a combination of Convolutional Neural Networks (CNNs) for images and videos, Recurrent Neural Networks (RNNs) for audio and speech and Face Swapping algorithms.

Second, the more they practice, the better they can get. Every day, millions of people use online AI tools to generate undress images, face swaps, and deepfake porn videos of Kpop idols, other celebrities, or acquaintances. They also provide the tools with tons of training material in the form of uploaded movies and pictures.

Finally, feedback is handy to measure quality. Users of advanced deepfake tools can easily rate the output and that helps developers and the AI itself to fix mistakes and repeat successes.

What are porn deepfakes used for?

With millions of human porn sites one can wonder why people massively turn to deepfake technology. The main reasons are curiosity, excitement and revenge. 

People are curious about what someone looks like naked. Instead of using one’s imagination, AI tools can depict anyone in their birthday suit. 

In little time and at a low cost, AI tools can generate customized fake porn that exactly matches people’s sexual fantasies and fetishes. 

It’s easy to create revengeporn with deepfake AI tools. Since explicit fake images and videos are hard to distinguish from reality, people with bad intentions abuse the technology.

What are some examples of celebrity deepfake porn?

In 2017, a Reddit user posted AI generated explicit images of Gal Gadot, who became famous for her role as Wonder Woman. 

The post went viral and inspired others to explore the tech and generate explicit deepfakes of other celebrities. Most of them were famous actresses, including Emma Watson, Natalie Portman, and Scarlett Johansson.

Later on, the trend targeted other famous women, such as the Indian journalist Rana Ayubb. In 2023, Atrioc accidentally revealed deepfake porn of female Twitch streamers.

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