Snapchat unleashes deepfakes feature called 'Cameo'

Deepfakes - putting a person's face on another person's body in a video - are about to go mainstream.

So far best-known for internet pranksters putting celebrity heads on pornstars' bodies, the controversial technology is currently being tested by messaging app Snapchat.

TechCrunch reports the feature, called Cameo, appeared for some French users at the weekend, who showed it off on social networking  sites like Twitter. 

Snap, the company behind Snapchat - which has more than 200 million users worldwide - confirmed the feature is genuine.

"Cameos aren't ready to take the stage yet, but stay tuned for their global debut soon," Snap told TechCrunch, saying it's in "limited availability in some international markets".

Deepfakes are relatively new technology. The term was coined in 2017 by an account on web forum Reddit, which posted pornographic videos with the faces replaced by celebrities such as Star Wars actresses Daisy Ridley and Natalie Portman, and Avengers star Scarlett Johansson.

"Clearly this doesn't affect me as much because people assume it's not actually me in a porno, however demeaning it is," Johansson said in January. "I think it's a useless pursuit, legally, mostly because the internet is a vast wormhole of darkness that eats itself."

While deepfakes have since been used for humorous purposes - such as putting Nicolas Cage into movies that previously suffered from a lack of Nicolas Cage - there are fears it could be used to fake footage of politicians and news events. 

"There's a risk that when that happens politicians or celebrities or even everyday people could be made to look or sound like they've done something when they haven't," legal researcher Tom Barraclough told Newshub in May.

"AI could leverage deepfakes to make social engineering attacks even more sophisticated," technology security company Symantec warned in January

Videos uploaded to Twitter by users with access to Cameo show Snapchat's version of the technology is somewhat simplified, making no attempt to look natural. Users select a premade clip to attach their face to before sending it to a friend. 

It doesn't appear to be available to New Zealand users yet.