- Snap confirmed it acquired AI Factory, a startup developing technology for image and video recognition, analysis and processing, Variety reported. The social media company is using the technology in Snapchat's Cameos feature that lets users put their selfies into short videos, similar to a "deepfake" that replaces a person's face with another one and appears real.
- Snap paid $166 million for AI Factory, Ukrainian tech publication AIN.ua reported, a figure that Snap declined to confirm. AI Factory was started by Victor Shaburov, who previously founded facial-recognition startup Looksery and sold it to Snap in 2015. He joined Snap as director of engineering before departing in 2018 to start AI Factory, Variety reported.
- Snap's acquisition of AI Factory comes as ByteDance, the Chinese tech company that created social video app TikTok, developed similar tools to let users add selfies into videos. The app's code refers to the feature as Face Swap, which hasn't been released yet, TechCrunch reported.
Snap's acquisition of AI Factory likely aims to keep the startup's artificial intelligence (AI) technology out of the hands of rivals as Snapchat continues to add features that let users manipulate their pictures and videos in various ways. The reported deal comes just after Snapchat rolled out Cameo last month, letting people put their selfies into a selection of 150 videos with humorous themes like a flying hot dog, a dancing roast chicken and a talking cat, among others.
Snap likely will seek to monetize Cameos with branded content, giving mobile marketers a chance to engage users in experiences they can share with friends and followers on the platform. The Cameo feature builds on Snapchat's stable of image and video creation tools that have helped to make the image-messaging app popular among younger audiences, especially U.S. teens. Snapchat for years has offered augmented reality (AR) features — including filters, lenses and masks — that prove to be enduringly popular with both users and advertisers.
Deepfake technology is controversial because of the potential for abuse, including the manipulation of videos to harass and humiliate people, or to trigger social strife. Another worry is that deepfakes will lead the general population of internet users to question whether any media content is authentic.
Governmental authorities worldwide are responding to those concerns. California last year passed laws to ban political deepfakes during election season and pornographic deepfakes made without consent. China also banned deepfakes, citing concerns about fake news. Snapchat and other platforms, including TikTok, may be able to alleviate some concerns by limiting how they let users manipulate videos and by ensuring deepfakes are properly disclosed to avoid confusion with real content.