Wij willen met u aan tafel zitten en in een openhartig gesprek uitvinden welke uitdagingen en vragen er bij u spelen om zo, gezamelijk, tot een beste oplossing te komen. Oftewel, hoe kan de techniek u ondersteunen in plaats van dat u de techniek moet ondersteunen.

Protests across the U.S. over police violence and systemic racism against Black Americans have sparked gaming companies like Electronic Arts, Epic Games and Sony Interactive Entertainment/PlayStation to publish statements of their support and make donations to relevant advocacy organizations.

These are positive actions, but the most impactful thing game companies can do is take action internally. Racial bias is baked, usually unintentionally, into games by those who develop them. This creates a recurring pattern of Black and Latinx characters being stereotyped or completely absent in games, which is invalidating and demeaning.

There are 2.5 billion gamers in the world, a group that includes consumers across every ethnicity and age (especially in mobile gaming, the largest market segment). Quartz has noted that “57% of video game players in the U.S. between the ages of 6 and 29 will be people of color in less than 10 years.” Black and Latinx youth in the US spend more time per day, on average, on both mobile games and console games than white youth. For hundreds of millions of gamers globally — particularly in demographics driving the industry’s rapid growth — there are very few games whose stories center on characters like them. That is also a missed business opportunity.

“Telling these stories isn’t as niche as people think it is. Look at [the Marvel movie] Black Panther,” says Rashad Redic, co-founder and Chief Creative Officer of Brass Lion Entertainment, “The content is defined by whether it’s entertaining, period.”

Beyond characters’ skin color, there are subtle aspects of game development that contribute to underrepresentation or misrepresentation. The consistent view among gaming executives and researchers I interviewed for this article is that the lack of diversity among employees at leading gaming companies results in leadership remaining largely oblivious to this.

Raising this simple critique isn’t always welcome. Games industry journalist Gita Jackson, for example, has described the criticism she gets anytime she mentions the race of characters within a game. “I think the presence of more video game characters who are women of color is good … These should not be controversial statements — I’m simply stating something I appreciate, something that’s relevant to me,” she wrote last year, “and yet some readers responded as if I’d suggested that all gamers should amputate their pinky toes.”

Character representation

One of the most extensive studies of racial representation in games was a 2009 study that analyzed 150 of the most popular titles. Black characters comprised 10.7% of characters, roughly on parity with the then-most recent census data that 12.3% of Americans are Black, and only 2.7% of characters were Latinx (relative to 12.5% representation in the U.S. population). But Dmitri Williams, a professor at the University of Southern California and the lead author of that study, says that Black representation is even lower if you only look at primary characters and that in any case “athletes in sports games account for most of the Black characters in those games.”

Kishonna Gray, a professor at the University of Illinois—Chicago, highlights that merely tracking the number of Black characters present in games misses the point of how they are represented. “In film, there have historically been three roles you see Black characters in: Black as violent, Black as the sidekick, Black as the help. This has also been true in video games.”

Furthermore, she argues that “sports games should be removed from those analyses since they are just copying real people from the real world” and mask the statistics that would show how infrequently Black characters arise from the creative process at most game studios.

Casting specific demographics in a certain light in any form of media has an impact on consumers’ perception of those demographics in the real world. At least one academic study found that white participants were more likely to associate Black faces with negative words after playing a violent video game as a Black character than after playing a violent video game as a white character.

When the only option to experience the fantasy worlds of many games is through white characters, it internalizes in many gamers that those fantasy worlds weren’t designed for them. “Anything is possible in games,” Gray told me in reference to her passion for the industry, “But anything is only possible for white characters. When they add Black characters to a game they root them only in their real world context … why can’t Black characters ride dragons?”

Game developer demographics

Data has shown that the representation of different races within games correlates to the racial makeup of the game development community. According to Williams. “It was pretty much a one-for-one representation.”

The International Game Developers Association (IGDA) found in the 2019 edition of its annual survey that among game developers worldwide:

  • 81% identify as “white/Caucasian/European”
  • 7% identify as “Hispanic/Latinx”
  • 2% identify as “Black/African-American/African/Afro-Caribbean”

“People draw their inspiration from their experience,” explained Gray, “that’s why we still have a problem with representation.” Redic said that during his career — which includes roles at top gaming companies like Bethesda and Crytek — he has frequently been “the only — or one of very few — Black guy among hundreds of game devs at a company.”

Tanya DePass, founder of the non-profit I Need Diverse Games, makes the point that for companies wanting to improve diversity in their content, “the biggest thing is diverse staff, and diverse staff at leadership level.” Moreover, her advice to game studios is to hire outside experts who can review their development plans and give feedback on where their content may stereotype or misrepresent an ethnic group: “Bring in diversity consultants in the beginning, not a month before launch, and treat it seriously.”

One company that uses consultants is Niantic, the studio behind Pokémon Go and Harry Potter: Wizards Unite. It has also implemented “Diversity and Inclusion check-ins through a game’s concept, preproduction and postproduction phases,” according Trinidad Hermida, the company’s Head of Diversity and Inclusion. “These check-ins look at everything from character design to evaluating whether the internal Niantic team working the product is diverse,” she explained, “Every new game we publish must go through this process to launch.”

Good intentions, slow progress

That IGDA survey last year also found that 87% of game developers said “diversity in game content” is “very important” or “somewhat important,” which offers optimism that representation can improve as developers are pushed to think of diversity less in the abstract and more in the context of the specific games they work on.

The number of Black or Latinx characters across popular games is indeed growing, even if that progress is quite slow relative to the pace at which the demographic makeup of the gaming community is diversifying. Examples can be found in Moby Games’ list of games with Black protagonists through 2017 and the list of Black video game characters on Wikipedia.

Giving users lots of options to customize their avatar’s appearance goes a long way in helping different demographics of gamers feel welcomed and emotionally attached to a game. This is increasingly common in games, but there are often more limited options for Black avatars, like the ability to choose natural hair styles. DePass says that game developers “are often not thinking about the fact that there are other people who also want to see themselves [in creating their avatar].” And when they do, the homogeneity of their team can lead to foreseeable mistakes. For example, DePass expressed that “If Black hair is available at all, it looks bad. Sometimes there’s 5 inches between braids; or Afros look like steel wool. It’s like, ‘Have you ever met a Black person or seen photos of black hairstyles?’”

Cyberbullying

Cyberbullying is a big issue in games, MMOs in particular, and in their efforts to combat it, gaming executives should recognize that both female gamers and Black and Latinx founders are particularly targeted with abuse, often denigrated with slurs and racist jokes.

A small but important step that developers can take, according to Gray, is giving players the option to mark racist behavior as the reason for submitting a complaint against another user. Many games have added the ability to mark a complaint as being due to gender discrimination, she notes, but the lack of a similar option for racism permits game studios to remain ignorant about how often racism occurs on their platform. Collecting data on a problem allows for more measurement of that problem and more effective action to address it.

Building for an underserved market

As DePass noted in our call, “There aren’t a lot of Black creators of games, but there are a lot of Black buyers of games.” There is business opportunity in creating content that better speaks to often-overlooked segments of the gamer community.

The natural question here is: If making games with narratives that center on Black or Latinx characters is a compelling business opportunity, why hasn’t it already been tapped? Leadership at established gaming companies “have a sense of who is a gamer, and who isn’t, that is very archaic” says Glow Up Games CEO Mitu Khandaker, whose studio is developing a mobile game leveraging IP from the HBO show “Insecure.”

Likewise, she explains, entrepreneurs who found their own studios with this thesis quickly find that the major funding sources (publishers and venture capitalists) are composed of ethnically homogenous teams who are quick to judge such games as niche.

As a result, the game developers focused on building games that speak to Black and Latinx audiences remain stuck in the indie games space, lacking the resources or industry credibility to develop a AAA title.

There’s a long list of societal problems that contribute to the disproportionately small number of Black software engineers entering the games industry or in leadership roles in the industry, from less access to high-quality STEM education in K-12 to employers devaluing degrees from historically Black colleges and universities to the well-researched pattern of resumes with white-sounding names receiving dramatically more job interviews.

Khandaker noted that the perceived lack of representation and role models for Black engineers looking at the gaming industry causes many to avoid the sector altogether, and many who enter the industry leave it in frustration.

Taking responsibility

On our recent call, Williams shared his memory of speaking on a panel about racial bias in games at the DICE Conference for game executives: “In the few minutes of transition between the prior session and my panel, roughly 90% of the audience left.”

A repeated sentiment among several of those I interviewed for this post was that the problem is not gaming executives with harmful intent so much as gaming executives lacking the interest or empathy to treat diversity as an issue that they personally should dedicate time to address. Discussion of diversity, whether at conferences or otherwise, is still too often treated as a token matter for purposes of political correctness, not a pressing business problem to solve.

If the current news cycle is helping change that attitude and energize executives in the industry to step up, the most impactful action they can take is to approach diversity as a product development priority not as a PR issue.


TechCrunch

Google today launched an update to its Duo video chat app (which you definitely shouldn’t confuse with Hangouts or Google Meet, Google’s other video, audio and text chat apps).

There are plenty of jokes to be made about Google’s plethora of chat options, but Duo is trying to be a bit different from Hangouts and Meet in that it’s mobile-first and putting the emphasis on personal conversations. In its early days, it was very much only about one-on-one conversations (hence its name), but that has obviously changed (hence why Google will surely change its name sooner or later). This update shows this emphasis with the addition of what the company calls a “family mode.”

Once you activate this mode, you can start doodling on the screen, activate a number of new effects and virtually dress up with new masks. These effects and masks are now also available for one-on-one calls.

For Mother’s Day, Google is rolling out a special new effect that is sufficiently disturbing to make sure your mother will never want to use Duo again and immediately make her want to switch to Google Meet instead.

Only last month, Duo increased the maximum number of chat participants to 12 on Android and iOS. In the next few weeks, it’s also bringing this feature to the browser, where it will work for anyone with a Google account.

Google also launched a new ad for Duo. It’s what happens when marketers work from home.


TechCrunch

During these long, mundane physically-distant days, stretching on into an uncertain future like an ever-lengthening beigeish corridor, it’s impossible not to miss hanging out with friends. Especially the kind of hanging out where you’re not really doing anything in particular, not talking about any one thing—just kind of being.

As we continue to stay physically distant from one another, it can be hard to feel socially present with the tools we have. Even with Zoom and other more casual chat apps, video chat can feel sort of flat. (And for those of us lucky enough to be working from home, visiting friends after work with the same tools we use to do work stuff doesn’t always feel great.) More often than not, we sit, stationary at our designated video-chat-spot, trade reports from self-quarantine and maybe drag in a cat or a kid or two.

But even untethered from our desks with more playful video chat apps or innovations like Facebook’s Portal and its roving eye, there’s still something else that doesn’t get conveyed. With flat screens, we have little sense of our physical selves in relation to one another. Socializing spatially, as it turns out, is something we probably took for granted. But the gaming world has understood this for years.

Now more than ever, we need creative ways to feel present with other people. The whole crisis looks like a huge opportunity for the gaming industry, but also one for more transcendent digital social experiences that don’t just look like playing a few rounds of Call of Duty after work. Hopefully, these experiences could be so imaginative that we don’t even know what they could look like yet.

If VR had delivered on its early promise, we’d all probably be living in it right now. The idea of having some kind of shared virtual realm is still a potent one, but the additional hardware has proven too prohibitive to get the average person on board (for now, at least) and even the coolest VR experiences remain niche. Still, it’s clear that we want to come together, not just in Instagram DMs and email threads, but as avatars navigating shared spaces. Somehow.

Virtual worlds getting it right

If the mainstream crossover success of Animal Crossing is any indication, people have a huge appetite for virtual spaces right now. Even with Nintendo’s truly painful online multiplayer experience, there’s something fun and special about visiting a friend, bopping each other with nets and showing them your new digs.

In Animal Crossing, this is truly a more-than-the-sum-of-its-parts experience. The last time I genuinely laughed and could not stop was visiting my younger sister’s Animal Crossing island right after the game launched. In spite of the interface’s few emotes and harsh character limits, her weird sense of humor managed to bubble up through the game’s limitations. And those constraints made it more special, for some reason. When I left her island I felt a pang of sadness at leaving her funny little physical manifestation, running circles around my own. It felt different than signing out of a video chat or dropping out of a conversation via text.

These experiences are happening on an individual level, but also a collective one—and people are getting creative. One of the writers from Rogue One just made his own in-game Animal Crossing talkshow, complete with its own tiny guest couch and cityscape view.

A developer in New York even launched a dev conference that took place entirely on an Animal Crossing island. Much like a normal conference, “Deserted Island DevOps” boasted speakers, moderators and even talks to be uploaded to YouTube after the fact.

Plenty of players are using Animal Crossing for more intimate get-togethers too, like celebrating Ramadan and Passover last month or just gathering far-flung friends or family together in one place.

 

The pandemic is showing us that the sweet spot of mainstream virtual presence might be something more than a Zoom-like video conference but less than a full-on virtual reality experience. Video games, or more specifically video games as platforms, seem to be resonating right now, even among the kinds of people who wouldn’t identify as gamers. That last bit is important.

This is something that Fortnite maker Epic Games has been doing right for a while now. There’s a reason that Fortnite, like Animal Crossing, brought non-gamers into the fold. Sure, Fortnite is fun and addictive, but lots of games are fun and addictive—and Fortnite is much harder than a lot of those games.

Epic’s real innovation is its buttery-smooth social layer that seamlessly connects players across platforms. If you can talk a friend into downloading an app, you’re in business. Of course, other games get this right too (Minecraft comes to mind, of course, and others) but timing is everything right now. And Fortnite’s team is cleverly iterating on its already-good ideas.

This week, Epic added a new deliberately chill game mode called Party Royale to Fortnite—a new island just for hanging out with friends. Littered with appropriately zany non-lethal weapons like throwable hamburgers and paintball guns, Party Royale is a designated space where you can take a group and chat while doing mindless yet amusing nonsense, like awkwardly kicking a soccer ball around (I did this with a total stranger for 20 minutes for some reason!) or driving virtual ATVs off virtual precipices.

And like much of Epic’s battle royale hit, the island itself is over-the-top weird, stocked with everything from a pirate ship to a music festival grounds awash in colorful lights, gigantic neon dancers and a very psychedelic vibe, molly not included. There’s even a drive-in movie screen, like another area of the main game, which could signal interesting things to come. If we’re lucky and Epic expands it out, Fortnite’s newest casual online virtual space could evolve into something pretty interesting.

Fortnite is a game ostensibly about killing people before they kill you, but it’s also a concert venue—and that hints at Epic’s deeper ideas about the game as a versatile social platform. The game held its latest big in-game show event last month, this time featuring a skyscraper-height Travis Scott who performed as he stormed around a bucolic-turned-kaleidoscopic version of the Fortnite map. 12 million people tuned in, besting the 10 million who played during the more modest Marshmello in-game EDM show a year prior. Whether you even listen to his music or not, the wildly visually imaginative event was, by all accounts, cool as hell.

Video games should evolve to meet the moment

For anyone who’s spent any time in massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs), this will all sound familiar. These games have long, vibrant history of drawing huge numbers of people together into persistent shared virtual spaces and letting them express themselves. Curating outfits, decorating spaces and even making choices around playstyle and faction affiliation are all ways to express aspects of who you are and what you’re about in a virtual world populated by other people doing the same. As someone who played World of Warcraft for years, this was the real appeal of the game for many of us. The game itself—quests, dungeons and the rest—was secondary.

During its peak ten years ago, World of Warcraft had as many active subscribers as players who tuned into the Travis Scott event—12 million. Since then, gaming exploded into the mainstream and by late 2018, Fortnite boasted almost 80 million active players. Online multiplayer itself bounded forward too, mostly through the success of blockbuster first-person shooters—usually grim, well-funded and vaguely or overtly militaristic games that routinely court one kind of gamer. Playful, candy-colored shooters like Fortnite, Splatoon and Overwatch emerged to extend a hand to casual players, even non-gamers, but there’s still plenty of room for online gaming to move beyond shooters.

The wild popularity of Minecraft carved out a path for cooperative gaming not just because building stuff is incredibly fun, though that’s true too, but because doing anything new with friends in a virtual space is really cool. Scrappier games like the incredible No Man’s Sky could do for exploration what Minecraft did for building, but with an indie developer’s budget, big ideas about multiplayer play can only get so far. Historically, the lion’s share of industry resources still get funneled toward reliably profitable military-style shooters. But with the world changing, trends could transform too. Just look at sales of Animal Crossing’s social feng shui sim dominating sales during the first months of the epidemic.

There’s a big opportunity right now for games offering a common social experience that’s magnetic enough to draw in the kind of people who don’t even play games. For those of us stuck at home, imaginative gaming worlds offer not just their usual escape from the moment’s stresses, but a way to share space when we can’t come together.

We just need more of them to visit.


TechCrunch

In a blog post today, YouTube announced that it’s finally bringing its fact-checking information panels to the U.S. First introduced in Brazil and India, the expansion comes as COVID-19-related misinformation and conspiracy has proliferated online and through certain media.

Fact-check articles will begin appearing in relevant search results, using informations pulled from a dozen or so third-party publishers, including The Dispatch, FactCheck.org, PolitiFact and The Washington Post Fact Checker. The site is leveraging ClaimReview’s article tagging system, which is also used by Google Search/New, Bing and Facebook.

In the post, YouTube specifically cites concerns around COVID-19-related misinformation as a driving force in the feature’s expansion, noting the difficulty in keeping up with a rapidly changing news cycle.

“Our fact check information panels provide fresh context in these situations by highlighting relevant,” the company writes, “third-party fact-checked articles above search results for relevant queries, so that our viewers can make their own informed decision about claims made in the news.”

The move doesn’t directly involve the takedown of offending videos. Instead the plan is to offer users context as they search for information on a given subject. The feature will no doubt have mixed results, depending on how committed a user is to a given theory or source. People who are already dug in on notions of COVID-19 as a hoax are not likely to be swayed by contextual information from PolitiFact or the Washington Post. That’s just the nature of the post-information hellscape in which we all currently reside. 

It echoes a similar move from Facebook earlier this month, which alerts users when they’ve interacted with “harmful misinformation” about the virus. Twitter, too, has expanded its own guidelines around coronavirus related tweets, removing some of the offending misinformation around theories involving things like 5G.

YouTube says the new feature “will take some time for our systems to fully ramp up.” That involves both refining the system, the features efficacy and eventually rolling it out into even more markets.


TechCrunch

On-demand video streaming giant Netflix, which is increasingly expanding its footprint in developing markets, now has a new competitor in Indonesia: Gojek.

The Indonesian ride-hailing giant on Thursday launched a video streaming service called GoPlay that features exclusive access to “hundreds of movies and TV shows” as well as snackable short clips. The streaming service is currently available only in Indonesia.

The service, which Gojek began testing with select users in June, focuses on local content, Edy Sulistyo, CEO of GoPlay said. Gojek, which was valued at $ 9.5 billion in its last financing round, said it has partnered with major local production houses such as Base Entertainment, Kalyana Shira Films, and Wahana Kreator for production of original titles. The firm said it has also tied up with some international studios to source foreign content.

“Despite a rise in demand for local content and a growing number of mobile audiences in Indonesia, access has still been limited especially for consumers living outside of urban areas. With GoPlay, we aim to enable all Indonesian consumers to enjoy high-quality on-demand entertainment at their convenience, while providing a platform for local content producers to showcase their creative work,” said Sulistyo in a statement.

Gojek is offering the video streaming service through two aggressively priced monthly plans: IDR 89,000 ($ 6.27), which offers access to the full catalog in HD; and IDR 99,000 ($ 7), which will additionally also provide users with access to GoFood delivery vouchers.

GoPlay will compete with a range of streaming services such as Netflix, iFlix, and Hooq. Netflix last year began testing a low-cost mobile-only plan in some developing markets including Indonesia to boost its presence in those nations. The global giant eventually launched the affordable tier in India earlier this year. A Netflix spokesperson told TechCrunch this week that it currently has no plans to expand the low-cost tier to other markets.

Like many other major firms in Southeast Asia, Gojek is increasingly bulking up its ride-sharing platform to enter additional categories. Today, it offers an online payments service and a gaming platform. The firm began working on its video streaming service last year after it set up an in-house content studio.

Grab, Gojek’s arch rival in Southeast Asian markets, and India’s Ola, have also expanded their offerings in recent years. While Grab, like Gojek, offers everything including a video streaming service, Ola launched a credit card in May.

Grab has a partnership with Hooq for its video streaming service. In the run up to GoPlay’s launch, Hooq CEO Peter Bithos told TechCrunch in an interview that Gojek lacks the reach Hooq maintains in Southeast Asian markets. “Gojek hasn’t been able to get to anything like the scale or reach that we’ve got,” he said.

About 125 million people in Indonesia, or half of the nation’s population, is currently online. Sulistyo said Gojek sees a lot of potential for GoPlay’s growth in the country.

Indonesia has emerged as one of the fastest growing economies in Asia in recent years. According to a study conducted by Google and Singapore’s Temasek, Indonesia’s internet economy is estimated to be worth $ 100 billion by 2025.


TechCrunch

Trucks and other large commercial vehicles and the biggest whales on the road today — are they also, by virtue of that size, some of the most dangerous and inefficient if they are driven badly. Today, a startup that has built a platform aimed at improving both of those areas has raised a large round of funding to continue fuelling (so to speak) its own growth: SmartDrive, a San Diego-based provider of video-based telematics and transportation insights, has snapped up a round of $ 90 million.

The company is not disclosing its valuation but according to PitchBook, it was last valued (in 2017) at $ 290 million, which would put the valuation now around $ 380 million. But given that the company has been growing well — it says that in the first half of this year, its contracted units were up 48%, while sales were up by 44% — that figure may well be higher. (We are asking.)

The funding comes at an interesting time for fleet management and the trucking industry. A lot of the big stories about automotive technology at the moment seem to be focused on autonomous vehicles for private usage, but that leaves a large — and largely legacy — market in the form of fleet management and commercial vehicles. That’s not to say it’s been completely ignored, however. Bigger companies like Uber, Telsa and Volvo, and startups like Nikola and more are all building smarter vehicles, and just yesterday Samsara, which makes an industrial IoT platform that works, in part, to provide fleet management to the trucking industry, raised $ 300 million on a $ 6.3 billion valuation.

The telematics market was estimated to be worth $ 25.5 billion in 2018 and is forecast to grow to some $ 98 billion by 2026.

The round was led by TPG Sixth Street Partners, a division of investment giant TPG (which backs the likes of Spotify and many others), which earlier this year was raising a $ 2 billion fund for growth-stage investments. Unnamed existing investors also participated. The company prior to this had raised $ 230 million, with other backers including Founders Fund, NewView Capital, Oak Investment Partners, Michelin and more. (NEA had also been an investor but has more recently sold its stake.)

SmartDrive has been around since 2005 and focuses on a couple of key areas. Tapping data from the many sensors that you have today in commercial vehicles, it builds up a picture of how specific truckers are handling their vehicles, from their control on tricky roads to what gears and speed they are using as they go up inclines, and how long they idle their engines. The resulting data is used both to provide a better picture to fleet managers of that performance, and to highlight specific areas where the trucker can improve his performance, and how.

Analytics and data provided to customers include multi-camera 360-degree views, extended recording and U-turn triggering, along with diagnostics on specific driver performance. The company claims that the information has led to more satisfaction among drivers and customers, with driver retention rates of 70% or higher and improvements to 9 miles per gallon (mpg) on trips, versus industry averages of 20% driver retention and 6 mpg.

“This is an exciting time at SmartDrive and in the transportation sector overall as adoption of video-based telematics continues to accelerate,” stated Steve Mitgang, SmartDrive CEO, in a statement. “Building on our pioneering video-based safety program, our vision of an open platform powering best-of-breed video, compliance and telematics applications is garnering significant traction across a diverse range of fleets given the benefits of choice, flexibility and a lower total cost of ownership. The investment from TPG Sixth Street Partners and our existing investors will fuel continued innovation in areas such as computer vision and AI, while also enhancing sales and marketing initiatives and further international expansion.”

The focus for SmartDrive seems to be on how drivers are doing in specific circumstances: it doesn’t seem to focus on whether there could have been better routes, or if better fleet management could have resulted in improved performance.

“SmartDrive is a market leader in the large and expanding transportation safety and intelligence sector and we are pleased to be investing in a growing company led by such a talented team,” noted Bo Stanley, partner and co-head of the Capital Solutions business at TPG Sixth Street Partners, in a statement. “SmartDrive’s proprietary data analytics platform and strong subscriber base put it in a great position to continue to capitalize on its track record of innovation and the broader secular trend of higher demand for safer and smarter transportation.”


TechCrunch

Zao went viral in China this weekend for its realistic face-swapping videos, but after controversy about its user policy, WeChat restricted access to the app on its messaging platform.

Users can still upload videos they created with Zao to WeChat, but if they try to download the app or send an invite link to another WeChat user, a message is displayed that says “this web page has been reported multiple times and contains security risks. To maintain a safe online environment, access to this page has been blocked.”23011567479434 .pic

Developed by a unit of Momo, one of China’s most popular dating apps, Zao creates videos that replace the faces of celebrities in scenes from popular movies, shows and music videos with a selfie uploaded by the user.

The app, currently available only in China, went viral as users shared their videos through WeChat and other social media platforms in China. But concerns about the potential misuse of deepfake technology coupled with a clause (now deleted) in Zao’s terms of use that gave it full ownership and copyright to content uploaded or created on it, in addition to “completely free, irrevocable, perpetual, transferrable, and re-licensable rights,” caused controversy.

By going viral quickly and being very easy to use (Zao’s videos can be generated from a single selfie, though it suggests that users upload photos from several angles for better results), the app has also focused more attention on deepfake technology and how it can potentially be used to spread misinformation or harass people.

Zao was released last Friday and quickly became the top free iOS app in China, according to App Annie. A statement posted on Sept. 1 to Zao’s Weibo account says “we completely understand everybody’s concerns about the privacy issue. We are aware of the issue and we are thinking about how to fix the problems, we need a little time.” Its terms and conditions now say user-generated content will only be used by the company to improve the app and that all deleted content will be removed from its servers.

TechCrunch has contacted Zao for comment.


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