State Farm got the Internet’s attention this year with a deepfake advertisement of ESPN SportsCenter anchor Kenny Mayne. To many, this was an introduction to a new and accessible technology that creates convincingly realistic fake videos.

Nearly anyone with Internet access can create a realistic video clip of events that never happened. Deepfakes are videos that use artificial intelligence to “face-swap” one person’s face (often a celebrity or politician) onto another person’s body. Deepfakes are created by a pair of neural networks called Generative Adversarial Networks. One of the networks uses a set of real images to create new, fake images. The opposing network then attempts to detect whether the fake image is forged. This adversarial relationship continues until the first network creates an image that the second network cannot detect as fake.

At worst, deepfakes can threaten consumers’ ability to rely on information they see online – even more than “fake news.” At best, deepfake technology can be used to create more affordable and accessible content. Your business should be aware of the prevalence of deepfake technology to both guard against its dangers and become aware of its ability to generate helpful content.

Deepfakes Threaten Private Sector Businesses

Deepfakes pose unique risks to private sector businesses and rapidly evolving deepfake technology might allow for attacks on companies by unprecedented means.

ShuftiPro, an identity verification software company, warns that deepfakes are used to tarnish business reputations by staging fake events or spreading fake news about businesses or individuals. Bad actors can also use them to impersonate executive officers of companies – even on a Zoom call – and give misleading or detrimental instructions to a company. Deepfakes circulated on social media can threaten publicly traded companies by creating fake news of takeover bids, scandals, or breakthroughs in an attempt to manipulate stock prices.

Social media also makes it possible for a single deepfake video to alter public perception of a brand or business, even if it later comes out that the video was fraudulent. This inflicts lasting damage on businesses and individuals, regardless of whether the victimized party can later prove its innocence.

Companies are also responsible for navigating ambiguities and unpredictability in the law surrounding deepfakes. Deepfakes have garnered the attention of legislatures across the country. In 2019, the U.S. Senate passed the “Deepfake Report Act.” The bill remains pending in the House.

Many states, including California, Texas, and Virginia, have already enacted laws regulating deepfakes through criminal and civil causes of action. This area of the law will quickly evolve in the coming years, affecting issues ranging from privacy torts, the First Amendment, and intellectual property.

The Upside — Benefits of Deepfakes

While troubling in many ways, deepfakes also present many positive educational, entertainment, and marketing opportunities.

In education, deepfakes can make lesson plans come to life. For instance, Scottish company CereProc used deepfake voice-cloning technology to assemble “lost” audio of the speech President John F. Kennedy intended to give in Dallas the day of his assassination. The Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center used deepfakes to showcase interviews with 15 Holocaust survivors and allow visitors to ask questions of the survivors. Last year, the Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida, displayed a deepfake of the artist explaining his artwork and taking selfies with museum visitors. Businesses can similarly enliven training and educational materials.

Likewise, deepfakes revolutionize entertainment and advertising. Production companies can forgo re-shoots by using deepfakes to correct filming errors and adjust scripts. What’s more, deepfakes can expand the global reach of content by seamlessly dubbing scripts into other languages.

Deepfakes also present other amusing advertising opportunities. As mentioned above, viewers lauded State Farm’s TV commercial that used deepfakes to feature an ESPN analyst from 1998 accurately predicting events in 2020. This type of creative use can create marketing opportunities that leave a lasting impression.

So, while businesses should beware of the downsides of deepfakes, they should also consider how this can be an effective tool to cut costs, expand markets, and energize advertising and education.

Next Steps — Creative Solutions for Using Deepfakes

In the future, deepfakes may be the source of many headaches and successes for businesses. The first step in familiarizing yourself with this new technology is to protect your business and employees.

Start by training employees to recognize the difference between real and fabricated content. Employees should be able to acknowledge the difference between real videos and deepfakes before sharing them on company pages and social media. Continually monitor your business’ online presence. To prevent the spread of false information, search for videos related to your company and employees. Finally, stay on top of the latest technology for detecting and avoiding fraud.

While deepfakes can present an obvious threat to your business’s reputation and finances, they can also serve as a creative marketing solution. Consider reaching out to your marketing team to see if they can translate videos into multiple languages to make them more accessible to a wider audience. Alternatively, you might consider using deepfakes to create new ads out of pre-recorded clips. An appropriate application of the technology can save your business time and money. Businesses may also consider using deepfakes to animate corporate training videos and programs.

Whether you are concerned about the potential risks of deepfakes or are interested in using deepfake technology as a business tool, Taft’s Technology team would be happy to help you navigate this new legal landscape.

This blog post was written by Taft summer associates.