The Zao app that allows you to replace a star's face with your own is amazing but worrying

The Zao app that allows you to replace a star's face with your own is amazing but worrying

A new phenomenon has taken hold of Chinese iPhone users – this is a new application called Zao, which allows people to convincingly and quite hilariously transpose their face on that of actors like Leonardo DiCaprio, Kit Harington, who stars in “Game of Thrones”, and many others. Zao ranked at the top of iOS downloads in China this weekend after its launch on the App Store on Friday. On Monday, September 2, Zao remained at the top of the App Store in China, according to App Annie. The application is currently only available to people who have a Chinese phone number, and is not listed in the App Store or Play Store in France or the United States.

Created by the Chinese developer MoMo, the Zao application allows users to transpose their face on a wide range of actors, singers, and even video game characters. It is enough for users to upload a single image of their face, and the application automatically glues it to video clips selected for them. The results are surprisingly convincing and unexpected. The technology called “deepfake” uses artificial intelligence (AI) to analyze a person’s face and then associate it with another person’s video. Recently, AI has become more sophisticated and, as the Zao app shows, more accessible.

Also read: Three things to know about the future of artificial intelligence, by the Frenchman Yann LeCun, his manager at Facebook

Here are some deepfakes generated by Zao :

This tweet from video game developer Allan Xia shows his face grafted onto different images of Leonardo DiCaprio.

Allan Xia also had a dialogue with himself by sticking his face on both Jon Snow and Samwell Tarly in ‘Game of Thrones’.

The app has a GIF generation feature, as you can see in this tweet from Allan Xia in Wolverine.

The AI also seems to work with video game characters, here is Allan Xia who inserted his face in the game ‘Devil May Cry.’

Finally, Allan Xia replaced the face of a K-Pop singer with his own.

The twitto Nikk Mitchell also made his way into the filmography of Leonardo DiCaprio.

Nikk Mitchell expressed his amazement, posing as two Chinese actors.

The Chinese tech specialist Matthew Brennan has meanwhile embedded himself in the series ‘The Big Bang Theory’.

And the twitto Andrew Rae transposed into the movie ‘Braveheart’.

Zao is currently not accessible to non-Chinese users, but it raises concerns about the privacy and ethics of deepfakes.


Behind Zao is MoMo, a company that develops social networks, owner of the Chinese dating app Tantan. Bloomberg and The Guardian reported that after the app went viral, doubts about privacy began to emerge from users. The latter spotted a line in the conditions of the application stating that Zao had “free, irrevocable, permanent, transferable and relicenciable” access to user-generated content.

As a result, WeChat, the popular chat service in China, blocked Zao on its platform. According to Bloomberg, Zao then quickly updated his terms, stating that “selfies” and “mini-videos” would be used only to improve the app, or anything else that was approved by the user.

This sudden reaction is reminiscent of the distrust around FaceApp, a Russian application that used AI to apply various filters to users’ faces in order to make them look old or change their gender.

Zao also affirmed, according to Bloomberg: “We understand the importance of privacy. We have received the comments and we will solve the problems that we have not taken into consideration, which will take a little time.”

If Zao decides to make its application more widely available, it is likely that Western users will still be worried. China has used facial recognition technology to massively expand its surveillance network, and users are likely to be reluctant to hand over personal data to a foreign developer.

The Chinese app Meitu also went viral in the West in 2017 for its photo editing, but was criticized because it required access to personal data like phone number and location data.

Credit: Isobel Asher Hamilton/Business Insider

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