Microsoft, OpenAI, Google and others agree to combat election-related deepfakes

Microsoft, OpenAI, Google and others agree to combat election-related deepfakes

Some critics worry the pact’s language doesn’t go far enough.

Microsoft, OpenAI, Google and others agree to combat election-related deepfakes |
The Washington Post via Getty Images

A coalition of 20 tech companies signed an agreement Friday to help prevent AI deepfakes in the critical 2024 elections taking place in more than 40 countries. OpenAI, Google, Meta, Amazon, Adobe and X are among the businesses joining the pact to prevent and combat AI-generated content that could influence voters. However, the agreement’s vague language and lack of binding enforcement call into question whether it goes far enough.

The list of companies signing the “Tech Accord to Combat Deceptive Use of AI in 2024 Elections” includes those that create and distribute AI models, as well as social platforms where the deepfakes are most likely to pop up. The signees are Adobe, Amazon, Anthropic, Arm, ElevenLabs, Google, IBM, Inflection AI, LinkedIn, McAfee, Meta, Microsoft, Nota, OpenAI, Snap Inc., Stability AI, TikTok, Trend Micro, Truepic and X (formerly Twitter).

The group describes the agreement as “a set of commitments to deploy technology countering harmful AI-generated content meant to deceive voters.” The signees have agreed to the following eight commitments:

  • Developing and implementing technology to mitigate risks related to Deceptive AI Election content, including open-source tools where appropriate

  • Assessing models in scope of this accord to understand the risks they may present regarding Deceptive AI Election Content

  • Seeking to detect the distribution of this content on their platforms

  • Seeking to appropriately address this content detected on their platforms

  • Fostering cross-industry resilience to deceptive AI election content

  • Providing transparency to the public regarding how the company addresses it

  • Continuing to engage with a diverse set of global civil society organizations, academics

  • Supporting efforts to foster public awareness, media literacy, and all-of-society resilience

The accord will apply to AI-generated audio, video and images. It addresses content that “deceptively fake or alter the appearance, voice, or actions of political candidates, election officials, and other key stakeholders in a democratic election, or that provide false information to voters about when, where, and how they can vote.”

The signees say they will work together to create and share tools to detect and address the online distribution of deepfakes. In addition, they plan to drive educational campaigns and “provide transparency” to users.

Microsoft, OpenAI, Google and others agree to combat election-related deepfakes |
OpenAI CEO Sam Altman (FABRICE COFFRINI via Getty Images)

OpenAI, one of the signees, already said last month it plans to suppress election-related misinformation worldwide. Images generated with the company’s DALL-E 3 tool will be encoded with a classifier providing a digital watermark to clarify their origin as AI-generated pictures. The ChatGPT maker said it would also work with journalists, researchers and platforms for feedback on its provenance classifier. It also plans to prevent chatbots from impersonating candidates.

“We’re committed to protecting the integrity of elections by enforcing policies that prevent abuse and improving transparency around AI-generated content,” Anna Makanju, Vice President of Global Affairs at OpenAI, wrote in the group’s joint press release. “We look forward to working with industry partners, civil society leaders and governments around the world to help safeguard elections from deceptive AI use.”

Notably absent from the list is Midjourney, the company with an AI image generator (of the same name) that currently produces some of the most convincing fake photos. However, the company said earlier this month it would consider banning political generations altogether during election season. Last year, Midjourney was used to create a viral fake image of Pope Benedict unexpectedly strutting down the street with a puffy white jacket. One of Midjourney’s closest competitors, Stability AI (makers of the open-source Stable Diffusion), did participate. Engadget contacted Midjourney for comment about its absence, and we’ll update this article if we hear back.

Only Apple is absent among Silicon Valley’s “Big Five.” However, that may be explained by the fact that the iPhone maker hasn’t yet launched any generative AI products, nor does it host a social media platform where deepfakes could be distributed. Regardless, we contacted Apple PR for clarification but hadn’t heard back at the time of publication.

Although the general principles the 20 companies agreed to sound like a promising start, it remains to be seen whether a loose set of agreements without binding enforcement will be enough to combat a nightmare scenario where the world’s bad actors use generative AI to sway public opinion and elect aggressively anti-democratic candidates — in the US and elsewhere.

“The language isn’t quite as strong as one might have expected,” Rachel Orey, senior associate director of the Elections Project at the Bipartisan Policy Center, told The Associated Press on Friday. “I think we should give credit where credit is due, and acknowledge that the companies do have a vested interest in their tools not being used to undermine free and fair elections. That said, it is voluntary, and we’ll be keeping an eye on whether they follow through.”

AI-generated deepfakes have already been used in the US Presidential Election. As early as April 2023, the Republican National Committee (RNC) ran an ad using AI-generated images of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris. The campaign for Ron DeSantis, who has since dropped out of the GOP primary, followed with AI-generated images of rival and likely nominee Donald Trump in June 2023. Both included easy-to-miss disclaimers that the images were AI-generated.

Microsoft, OpenAI, Google and others agree to combat election-related deepfakes |
In January, New Hampshire voters were greeted with a robocall of an AI-generated impersonation of President Biden’s voice — urging them not to vote. (Anadolu via Getty Images)

In January, an AI-generated deepfake of President Biden’s voice was used by two Texas-based companies to robocall New Hampshire voters, urging them not to vote in the state’s primary on January 23. The clip, generated using ElevenLabs’ voice cloning tool, reached up to 25,000 NH voters, according to the state’s attorney general. ElevenLabs is among the pact’s signees.

The Federal Communication Commission (FCC) acted quickly to prevent further abuses of voice-cloning tech in fake campaign calls. Earlier this month, it voted unanimously to ban AI-generated robocalls. The (seemingly eternally deadlocked) US Congress hasn’t passed any AI legislation. In December, the European Union (EU) agreed on an expansive AI Act safety development bill that could influence other nations’ regulatory efforts.

“As society embraces the benefits of AI, we have a responsibility to help ensure these tools don’t become weaponized in elections,” Microsoft Vice Chair and President Brad Smith wrote in a press release. “AI didn’t create election deception, but we must ensure it doesn’t help deception flourish.”

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