Weekend Roundup: Microsoft vs. Deepfakes; Fixing Apple’s App Store?

It’s the (long) weekend! Before you shut down for a well-earned three-day break, let’s take a few minutes to revisit some of the interesting tech stories from the week that you might have missed…

Microsoft Wants to Kill Deepfakes

For years, pundits and analysts have been screaming about the dangers of deepfakes to unleash all kinds of societal chaos, from election interference to hilarious hoaxes. Deepfakes leverage dee-learning algorithms to alter existing images or video; for example, you could put Nicolas Cage’s face on pretty much anybody in a film clip.  

Various tech companies are trying to come up with ways to identify deepfakes. Now Microsoft is stepping into the proverbial ring with Video Authenticator, which will analyze video and give it a trustworthiness score. In order to feed the tool, the company used a dataset from Face Forensic++, then tested the results on the DeepFake Detection Challenge Dataset

Through a partnership with the AI Foundation, an organization that styles itself as a watchdog over evolving A.I., Microsoft will make Video Authenticator available to “organizations involved in the democratic process, including news outlets and political campaigns,” according to a posting on Microsoft’s corporate blog. But Microsoft’s researchers also fear that deepfakes will continue to evolve, putting even the most sophisticated efforts to detect them at risk:

“As all AI detection methods have rates of failure, we have to understand and be ready to respond to deepfakes that slip through detection methods. Thus, in the longer term, we must seek stronger methods for maintaining and certifying the authenticity of news articles and other media. There are few tools today to help assure readers that the media they’re seeing online came from a trusted source and that it wasn’t altered.”

Going forward, Microsoft wants to create a digital watermarking system that can not only call out deepfakes, but give viewers more information on who created a particular piece of media. But will these tools actually impact the spread of deepfakes? That remains to be seen. 

How Will Epic’s War on the App Store Impact Apple?

It’s one of the big tech stories of the summer: Epic Games, famous for producing the Unreal engine (useful in building video games) and the ultra-popular Fortnite (seen above), decided it would sue Apple and Google. The core issue: Apple and Google taking (in Epic’s opinion) too big a cut on all sales via their respective mobile app stores. 

When Epic tried to sidestep those app-store charges by allowing players to purchase in-game currency from within Fortnite itself, Apple and Google kicked the game out of their app stores for violating their rules. Epic retaliated with a lawsuit seemingly tailor-made to bring anti-trust scrutiny down on the tech giants.

Will Epic eventually give way and allow Apple and Google to take their cut? Or will the tech giants change how they do business (and how much revenue they take) via their app stores? The answer to those questions could massively impact not just Epic, but all mobile developers large and small.

Over at The New York Times, Shira Ovide has an interesting column that offers some suggestions for how Apple can potentially repair its relationship with developers, no matter how the issue with Epic turns out. Among the ideas: an “independent app review process” that replaces Apple’s in-house one, which is currently the bane of many developers. 

Of course, Apple likes control and profits, so it seems unlikely that it would allow any third parties to have control over the all-important app review process. But as a thought exercise into a huge issue impacting developers, the Times column is well worth reading. 

Have a great weekend, everyone! Stay safe!