MyHeritage's deepfake tool animates ancient photos and it's as weird as it sounds

The genealogy service is using artificial intelligence-powered tools as a marketing campaign to drum up new subscribers.

Nostalgia sells and marketers know it. People like to fantasize about a past they think was better than it likely was — and wonder what it might have been like for their relatives who lived through it. To capitalize on this, a genealogy-tracking service called MyHeritage has launched an AI-powered tool it calls Deep Nostalgia which animates old photos of users' family members, whether deceased or otherwise.

Several users of the service have taken to Twitter to share animated images of their great grandparents, reanimated, and exhibiting various facial expressions. The style of each video is almost the same: the subject moves their eyes around and then tilts their head a little, as if trying to recall something in answer to a question, before returning their gaze to the viewer. But then, it's early days for the service, and odds are it'll get a lot more flexible eventually.

Check out this example found on Twitter below:

@mikequack / Twitter

Mostly an ad and a fad? — We'd never dissuade people from exploring their ancestry or heritage, but this particular tool from MyHeritage seems like little more than a marketing project... much like its previous attempt at virality where it used AI to enhance the quality of old family photos.

MyHeritage asks for heaps of data from users, which can later be used to try and upsell customers on paid services. There are also legitimate concerns around its use and protection of users' DNA. The criticism applies to other industry giants like Ancestry, 23andMe, and FamilyTreeDNA, too, all of which that promise to deliver a wealth of information about your roots in exchange for your privacy. Sensitive information like user DNA is then stored in massive databases that may be sold to med-tech firms... or which could be compromised via hacks.

"Free" — While reanimating old photos is novel, and using the service is ostensibly free, we can't help but feel that seeing meemaw as an animated deepfake may not be worth assenting to MyHeritage's privacy policy and terms of service, because who knows where these images might end up. And also, if meemaw has shuffled off this mortal coil, we can't exactly get her to consent.