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Deepfake porn is out of control

New research shows the number of deepfake videos is skyrocketing—and the world's biggest search engines are funneling clicks to dozens of sites dedicated to the nonconsensual fakes.

GOOGLE’S AND MICROSOFT’S search engines have a problem with deepfake porn videos. Since deepfakes emerged half a decade ago, the technology has consistently been used to abuse and harass women—using machine learning to morph someone’s head into pornography without their permission. Now the number of nonconsensual deepfake porn videos is growing at an exponential rate, fueled by the advancement of AI technologies and an expanding deepfake ecosystem.

A new analysis of nonconsensual deepfake porn videos, conducted by an independent researcher and shared with WIRED, shows how pervasive the videos have become. At least 244,625 videos have been uploaded to the top 35 websites set up either exclusively or partially to host deepfake porn videos in the past seven years, according to the researcher, who requested anonymity to avoid being targeted online.

Over the first nine months of this year, 113,000 videos were uploaded to the websites—a 54 percent increase on the 73,000 videos uploaded in all of 2022. By the end of this year, the analysis forecasts, more videos will have been produced in 2023 than the total number of every other year combined.

These startling figures are just a snapshot of how colossal the issues with nonconsensual deepfakes has become—the full scale of the problem is much larger and encompasses other types of manipulated imagery. A whole industry of deepfake abuse, which predominantly targets women and is produced without people’s consent or knowledge, has emerged in recent years. Face-swapping apps that work on still images and apps where clothes can be “stripped off a person” in a photo with just a few clicks are also highly prominent. There are likely millions of images being created with these apps.

“This is something that targets everyday people, everyday high school students, everyday adults—it's become a daily occurrence,” says Sophie Maddocks, who conducts research on digital rights and cyber-sexual violence at the University of Pennsylvania. “It would make a lot of difference if we were able to make these technologies harder to access. It shouldn't take two seconds to potentially incite a sex crime.”

The new research highlights 35 different websites, which exist to exclusively host deepfake pornography videos or incorporate the videos alongside other adult material. (It does not encompass videos posted on social media, those shared privately, or manipulated photos.) WIRED is not naming or directly linking to the websites, so as not to further increase their visibility. The researcher scraped the websites to analyze the number and duration of deepfake videos, and they looked at how people find the websites using the analytics service SimilarWeb.

Many of the websites make it clear they host or spread deepfake porn videos—often featuring the word deepfakes or derivatives of it in their name. The top two websites contain 44,000 videos each, while five others host more than 10,000 deepfake videos. Most of them have several thousand videos, while some only list a few hundred. Some videos the researcher analyzed have been watched millions of times.

The research also identified an additional 300 general pornography websites that incorporate nonconsensual deepfake pornography in some way. The researcher says “leak” websites and websites that exist to repost people’s social media pictures are also incorporating deepfake images. One website dealing in photographs claims it has “undressed” people in 350,000 photos.

Measuring the full scale of deepfake videos and images online is incredibly difficult. Tracking where the content is shared on social media is challenging, while abusive content is also shared in private messaging groups or closed channels, often by people known to the victims. In September, more than 20 girls aged 11 to 17 came forward in the Spanish town of Almendralejo after AI tools were used to generate naked photos of them without their knowledge.

“There has been significant growth in the availability of AI tools for creating deepfake nonconsensual pornographic imagery, and an increase in demand for this type of content on pornography platforms and illicit online networks,” says Asher Flynn, an associate professor at Monash University, Australia, who focuses on AI and technology-facilitated abuse. This is only likely to increase with new generative AI tools.

 

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