Google quietly bans deepfakes on its Colab coding platform

Industry and government can try to stop the manipulated media from spreading, but deepfake bans are practically impossible to enforce

Google has updated its terms of use to ban work that facilitates the creation of deepfakes — videos that digitally fabricate likenesses of people. As noted by Bleeping Computer, Google did not make a public announcement but quietly added “creating deepfakes” to its list of banned activities. The videos, named after a Redditor called ‘deepfake’ who popularized the practice, use machine learning tools to create startlingly convincing face-swaps.

Deepfakes — Some uses are harmless (see the YouTube video Dr. Phil but everyone is Dr. Phil), while others are pretty dystopian. At its worst, the technology can constitute a national security threat, be a vehicle for financial fraud, or a tool to generate artificially-generated porn of unconsenting subjects. Industry and governments have put forth efforts to curb the forged videos, but because nobody can say for certain whether a video is a deepfake, a ban is practically impossible to enforce. As Input wrote in January, the best deepfakes leave “no pixelated evidence of a messy edit; their artificiality is virtually undetectable.” Think you can pick real from fake? Try it out for yourself!

Colab — Colab, is a Jupyter notebook environment that allows you to run Python code online. It started as a Google Research project and expanded to the public in late 2017. The site boasts “zero configuration required, access to GPUs free of charge, easy sharing.”

You can access projects from other creators, make tweaks, and save projects in your Google Drive, all while running the code on your browser instead of your own computing power. One project called “DFL-Colab” was a user-friendly fork of the deepfake software DeepFaceLab — which, according to a May investigation by Motherboard, has close ties to malicious deepfake porn. The Colab project allowed users to create deepfakes without graphics cards or specialized hardware.

The project is no longer functional to the public on Google Colab. TechCrunch reports that users who attempted to run DeepFaceLab technology received an error message: “You may be executing code that is disallowed, and this may restrict your ability to use Colab in the future. Please note the prohibited actions specified in our FAQ.”