ZAO application

Technology review – ZAO

Just how far deepfake technology has become, a new app, which greatly resembles the said technology has recently emerged.

ZAO, a Chinese face-swapping app, has made huge explosion in social media and racked up millions of downloads online.

It allows its users to swap their faces with showbiz and sports personalities or anyone else in a video clip or GIF using artificial intelligence (AI).

The app was uploaded to China’s iOS App Store on August 30 and became the most downloaded free app on Sunday, as sources say.

According to a post from the app makers on China’s Twitter-like Weibo, ZAO’s servers nearly crashed due to the surge in traffic.

App Annie, a firm that tracks app downloads around the globe says, ZAOis the most-downloaded free app in China’s iOS App Store as of September 1.

ZAO is owned by NASDAQ-listed Momo Inc., the same company behind China’s version of Tinder, Tantan.

Tl; dr;

ZAO (Chinese name: 颜技-全民AI视频换脸做演员), is a new Chinese application that lets people swap faces realistically with prominent personalities in a series of videos and GIFs, and then share it with their friends.

They can sign-up for this app using their phone number and upload images of their face, using photographs taken with their smartphone.

The app isn’t currently available to anyone without a Chinese phone number, and isn’t listed on the UK or US App Store or Play Store.

ZAO: A Chinese “deepfake” face app

ZAO mobile app


With ZAO, anyone who aspires to be part of Titanic, Game of Thrones, or Big Bang Theory can now skip audition and go straight to limelight without the strenuous hardwork, talent, and dedication.

Aside from Chinese celebrities, famous faces of the app include Hollywood celebrities like Marilyn Monroe and Leonardo DiCaprio.

Allan Xia, a 30 year old artist and game developer based inAuckland, New Zealand, happens to have a Chinese number and made use of the app, uploading it on Twitter thereafter.

He became the face of the app last month after inserting himself into a Leonardo DiCaprio montage – taking him only seconds to find fame.

ZAO swap face

Privacy Issues

As it went viral, numerous issues had spark.

Some users complained that the app’s privacy policy could endanger them, making a huge backlash against this that pushed the company to change its terms.

One section of ZAO’s user agreement stated that consumers who’ll upload their images to the app agree to surrender the intellectual property rights of their face, permitting it to use their images for marketing purposes.

On Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, ZAO said that it would address those concerns:

“We thoroughly understand the anxiety people have towards privacy concerns,” the company said. “We have received the questions you have sent us. We will correct the areas we have not considered and require some time.”

The company also said that it won’t use head shots or videos uploaded by users except to improve the app and won’t store images if users delete them from their accounts.

User Agreement Revision

Meanwhile on CNN’s report, it was stated that ZAO has already changed its user agreement.

In its latest version of user agreement, ZAO “will try its best, based on the privacy terms, to use the content you have authorized us to use within a reasonable, necessary and expressly stated extent.”

“Your necessary authorization and agreement will not change your ownership of the intellectual property rights,” as expressed to the terms.

Also, the company promised in its statement not to store “facial biometric data” on its app and would delete any information about users “according to the law” if they erase their accounts.

In a statement, Momo Inc. said that the terms would also apply to any users who signed the app’s original terms and conditions.

“We protect personal data and value data safety,” ZAO added. “We’ve also adopted several safety measures including storage encryption.”

Domino effect

The issue had affected ZAO’s standing in App Store ratings with numerous company platforms expressing their thoughts against the deep fake app.

A popular Chinese online payment system, Alipay, expressed:

“Rest assured that no matter how sophisticated the current facial swapping technology is, it cannot deceive our payment apps,” Alipay said in a statement Sunday on its Weibo account. “Even if the extremely rare case that an account is stolen, insurance companies will cover lost funds in full.”

In its Tuesday statement, ZAO cited that the use of its system would not cause “payment risks,” adding that the “security threshold for facial recognition payment is extremely high.”

China’s leading messaging platform WeChat restricted access to the app, prohibiting invites and links citing “security risks” in its decision.

Such is the backlash in China over the ZAO app, that even state-controlled media is running the story.


With the issue reminiscent of FaceApp, ZAO (having a background with AI-based deepfake technology) has sparked numerous issues that could lead to a variety of problems including fake news, fake evidence, blackmail, defamation, etc.

As the advancement of deepfake, though fun and entertaining,producing audio and video clips are becoming more indistinguishable from authentic ones.

It’s a good thing these things existed, so that, we should be more mindful NOW in believing everything – distinguishing what’s right from wrong or real from fake.

By Tuan Nguyen

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