Media & Entertainment

Google bans deepfake-generating AI from Colab

Comment

Google logo on building
Image Credits: Alex Tai/SOPA Images/LightRocket / Getty Images

Google has banned the training of AI systems that can be used to generate deepfakes on its Google Colaboratory platform. The updated terms of use, spotted over the weekend by Unite.ai and BleepingComputer, includes deepfakes-related work in the list of disallowed projects.

Colaboratory, or Colab for short, spun out from an internal Google Research project in late 2017. It’s designed to allow anyone to write and execute arbitrary Python code through a web browser, particularly code for machine learning, education and data analysis. For the purpose, Google provides both free and paying Colab users access to hardware including GPUs and Google’s custom-designed, AI-accelerating tensor processing units (TPUs).

In recent years, Colab has become the de facto platform for demos within the AI research community. It’s not uncommon for researchers who’ve written code to include links to Colab pages on or alongside the GitHub repositories hosting the code. But Google hasn’t historically been very restrictive when it comes to Colab content, potentially opening the door for actors who wish to use the service for less scrupulous purposes.

Users of the open source deepfake generator DeepFaceLab became aware of the terms of use change last week, when several received an error message after attempting to run DeepFaceLab in Colab. The warning read: “You may be executing code that is disallowed, and this may restrict your ability to use Colab in the future. Please note the prohibited actions specified in our FAQ.”

Not all code triggers the warning. This reporter was able to run one of the more popular deepfake Colab projects without issue, and Reddit users report that another leading project, FaceSwap, remains fully functional. This suggests enforcement is blacklist — rather than keyword —based, and that the onus will be on the Colab community to report code that runs afoul of the new rule.

“We regularly monitor avenues for abuse in Colab that run counter to Google’s AI principles, while balancing supporting our mission to give our users access to valuable resources such as TPUs and GPUs. Deepfakes were added to our list of activities disallowed from Colab runtimes last month in response to our regular reviews of abusive patterns,” a Google spokesperson told TechCrunch via email. “Deterring abuse is an ever-evolving game, and we cannot disclose specific methods as counterparties can take advantage of the knowledge to evade detection systems. In general, we have automated systems that detect and prohibit many types of abuse.”

Archive.org data shows that Google quietly updated the Colab terms sometime in mid-May. The previous restrictions on things like running denial-of-service attacks, password cracking and downloading torrents were left unchanged.

Deepfakes come in many forms, but one of the most common are videos where a person’s face has been convincingly pasted on top of another face. Unlike the crude Photoshop jobs of yesteryear, AI-generated deepfakes can match a person’s body movements, microexpressions and skin tones better than Hollywood-produced CGI in some cases.

Deepfakes can be harmless — even entertaining — as countless viral videos have shown. But they’re increasingly being used by hackers to target social media users in extortion and fraud schemes. More nefariously, they’ve been leveraged in political propaganda, for example to create videos of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy giving a speech about the war in Ukraine that he never actually gave.

From 2019 to 2021, the number of deepfakes online grew from roughly 14,000 to 145,000, according to one source. Forrester Research estimated in October 2019 that deepfake fraud scams would cost $250 million by the end of 2020.

“When it comes to deepfakes specifically, the issue that’s most relevant is an ethical one: dual use,” Vagrant Gautam, a computational linguist at Saarland University in Germany, told TechCrunch via email. “It’s a bit like thinking about guns, or chlorine. Chlorine is useful to clean stuff but it’s also been used as a chemical weapon. So we deal with that by first thinking about how bad the tech is and then, e.g., agree on the Geneva Protocol that we won’t use chemical weapons on each other. Unfortunately, we don’t have industry-wide consistent ethical practices regarding machine learning and AI, but it makes sense for Google to come up with its own set of conventions regulating the access to and ability to create deepfakes, especially since they’re often used to disinform and to spread fake news — which is a problem that’s bad and continues to get worse.”

Os Keyes, a Ph.D. candidate at Seattle University, also approved of Google’s move to ban deepfake projects from Colab. But he noted that more must be done on the policy side to prevent their creation and spread.

“The way that it has been done certainly highlights the poverty of relying on companies self-policing,” Keyes told TechCrunch via email. “Deepfake generation should absolutely not be an acceptable form of work, well, anywhere, and so it’s good that Google is not making itself complicit in that … But the ban doesn’t occur in a vacuum — it occurs in an environment where actual, accountable, responsive regulation of these kinds of development platforms (and companies) is lacking.”

Others, particularly those who benefitted from Colab’s previously laissez faire approach to governance, might not agree. Years ago, AI research lab OpenAI initially declined to open source a language-generating model, GPT-2, out of fear that it would be misused. This motivated groups like EleutherAI to leverage tools including Colab to develop and release their own language-generating models, ostensibly for research.

When I spoke to Connor Leahy, a member of EleutherAI, last year, he asserted that the commoditization of AI models is part of an “inevitable trend” in the falling price of the production of “convincing digital content” that won’t be derailed whether or not the code is released. In his view, AI models and tools should be made widely available so that “low-resource” users, especially academics, can gain access to better study and perform their own safety-focused research on them.

“Deepfakes have a large potential to run counter to Google’s AI principles. We aspire to be able to detect and deter abusive deepfake patterns versus benign ones, and will alter our policies as our methods progress,” the spokesperson continued. “Users wishing to explore synthetic media projects in a benign way are encouraged to talk to a Google Cloud representative to vet their use case and explore the suitability of other managed compute offerings in Google Cloud.”

More TechCrunch

Expedia says Rathi Murthy and Sreenivas Rachamadugu, respectively its CTO and senior vice president of core services product & engineering, are no longer employed at the travel booking company. In…

Expedia says two execs dismissed after ‘violation of company policy’

When Jeffrey Wang posted to X asking if anyone wanted to go in on an order of fancy-but-affordable office nap pods, he didn’t expect the post to go viral.

With AI startups booming, nap pods and Silicon Valley hustle culture are back

A new crop of early-stage startups — along with some recent VC investments — illustrates a niche emerging in the autonomous vehicle technology sector. Unlike the companies bringing robotaxis to…

VCs and the military are fueling self-driving startups that don’t need roads

When the founders of Sagetap, Sahil Khanna and Kevin Hughes, started working at early-stage enterprise software startups, they were surprised to find that the companies they worked at were trying…

Deal Dive: Sagetap looks to bring enterprise software sales into the 21st century

Keeping up with an industry as fast-moving as AI is a tall order. So until an AI can do it for you, here’s a handy roundup of recent stories in the world…

This Week in AI: OpenAI moves away from safety

After Apple loosened its App Store guidelines to permit game emulators, the retro game emulator Delta — an app 10 years in the making — hit the top of the…

Adobe comes after indie game emulator Delta for copying its logo

Meta is once again taking on its competitors by developing a feature that borrows concepts from others — in this case, BeReal and Snapchat. The company is developing a feature…

Meta’s latest experiment borrows from BeReal’s and Snapchat’s core ideas

Welcome to Startups Weekly! We’ve been drowning in AI news this week, with Google’s I/O setting the pace. And Elon Musk rages against the machine.

Startups Weekly: It’s the dawning of the age of AI — plus,  Musk is raging against the machine

IndieBio’s Bay Area incubator is about to debut its 15th cohort of biotech startups. We took special note of a few, which were making some major, bordering on ludicrous, claims…

IndieBio’s SF incubator lineup is making some wild biotech promises

YouTube TV has announced that its multiview feature for watching four streams at once is now available on Android phones and tablets. The Android launch comes two months after YouTube…

YouTube TV’s ‘multiview’ feature is now available on Android phones and tablets

Featured Article

Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

CSC ServiceWorks provides laundry machines to thousands of residential homes and universities, but the company ignored requests to fix a security bug.

1 day ago
Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

OpenAI’s Superalignment team, responsible for developing ways to govern and steer “superintelligent” AI systems, was promised 20% of the company’s compute resources, according to a person from that team. But…

OpenAI created a team to control ‘superintelligent’ AI — then let it wither, source says

TechCrunch Disrupt 2024 is just around the corner, and the buzz is palpable. But what if we told you there’s a chance for you to not just attend, but also…

Harness the TechCrunch Effect: Host a Side Event at Disrupt 2024

Decks are all about telling a compelling story and Goodcarbon does a good job on that front. But there’s important information missing too.

Pitch Deck Teardown: Goodcarbon’s $5.5M seed deck

Slack is making it difficult for its customers if they want the company to stop using its data for model training.

Slack under attack over sneaky AI training policy

A Texas-based company that provides health insurance and benefit plans disclosed a data breach affecting almost 2.5 million people, some of whom had their Social Security number stolen. WebTPA said…

Healthcare company WebTPA discloses breach affecting 2.5 million people

Featured Article

Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Microsoft won’t be facing antitrust scrutiny in the U.K. over its recent investment into French AI startup Mistral AI.

1 day ago
Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Ember has partnered with HSBC in the U.K. so that the bank’s business customers can access Ember’s services from their online accounts.

Embedded finance is still trendy as accounting automation startup Ember partners with HSBC UK

Kudos uses AI to figure out consumer spending habits so it can then provide more personalized financial advice, like maximizing rewards and utilizing credit effectively.

Kudos lands $10M for an AI smart wallet that picks the best credit card for purchases

The EU’s warning comes after Microsoft failed to respond to a legally binding request for information that focused on its generative AI tools.

EU warns Microsoft it could be fined billions over missing GenAI risk info

The prospects for troubled banking-as-a-service startup Synapse have gone from bad to worse this week after a United States Trustee filed an emergency motion on Wednesday.  The trustee is asking…

A US Trustee wants troubled fintech Synapse to be liquidated via Chapter 7 bankruptcy, cites ‘gross mismanagement’

U.K.-based Seraphim Space is spinning up its 13th accelerator program, with nine participating companies working on a range of tech from propulsion to in-space manufacturing and space situational awareness. The…

Seraphim’s latest space accelerator welcomes nine companies

OpenAI has reached a deal with Reddit to use the social news site’s data for training AI models. In a blog post on OpenAI’s press relations site, the company said…

OpenAI inks deal to train AI on Reddit data

X users will now be able to discover posts from new Communities that are trending directly from an Explore tab within the section.

X pushes more users to Communities

For Mark Zuckerberg’s 40th birthday, his wife got him a photoshoot. Zuckerberg gives the camera a sly smile as he sits amid a carefully crafted re-creation of his childhood bedroom.…

Mark Zuckerberg’s makeover: Midlife crisis or carefully crafted rebrand?

Strava announced a slew of features, including AI to weed out leaderboard cheats, a new ‘family’ subscription plan, dark mode and more.

Strava taps AI to weed out leaderboard cheats, unveils ‘family’ plan, dark mode and more

We all fall down sometimes. Astronauts are no exception. You need to be in peak physical condition for space travel, but bulky space suits and lower gravity levels can be…

Astronauts fall over. Robotic limbs can help them back up.

Microsoft will launch its custom Cobalt 100 chips to customers as a public preview at its Build conference next week, TechCrunch has learned. In an analyst briefing ahead of Build,…

Microsoft’s custom Cobalt chips will come to Azure next week

What a wild week for transportation news! It was a smorgasbord of news that seemed to touch every sector and theme in transportation.

Tesla keeps cutting jobs and the feds probe Waymo

Sony Music Group has sent letters to more than 700 tech companies and music streaming services to warn them not to use its music to train AI without explicit permission.…

Sony Music warns tech companies over ‘unauthorized’ use of its content to train AI