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A horrifying new AI app swaps women into porn videos with a click

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A horrifying new AI app swaps women into porn videos with a click


From the beginning, deepfakes, or AI-generated synthetic media, have primarily been used to create pornographic representations of women, who often find this psychologically devastating. The original Reddit creator who popularized the technology face-swapped female celebrities’ faces into porn videos. To this day, the research company Sensity AI estimates, between 90% and 95% of all online deepfake videos are nonconsensual porn, and around 90% of those feature women.

As the technology has advanced, numerous easy-to-use no-code tools have also emerged, allowing users to “strip” the clothes off female bodies in images. Many of these services have since been forced offline, but the code still exists in open-source repositories and has continued to resurface in new forms. The latest such site received over 6.7 million visits in August, according to the researcher Genevieve Oh, who discovered it. It has yet to be taken offline.

There have been other single-photo face-swapping apps, like ZAO or ReFace, that place users into selected scenes from mainstream movies or pop videos. But as the first dedicated pornographic face-swapping app, Y takes this to a new level. It’s “tailor-made” to create pornographic images of people without their consent, says Adam Dodge, the founder of EndTAB, a nonprofit that educates people about technology-enabled abuse. This makes it easier for the creators to improve the technology for this specific use case and entices people who otherwise wouldn’t have thought about creating deepfake porn. “Anytime you specialize like that, it creates a new corner of the internet that will draw in new users,” Dodge says.

Y is incredibly easy to use. Once a user uploads a photo of a face, the site opens up a library of porn videos. The vast majority feature women, though a small handful also feature men, mostly in gay porn. A user can then select any video to generate a preview of the face-swapped result within seconds—and pay to download the full version.

The results are far from perfect. Many of the face swaps are obviously fake, with the faces shimmering and distorting as they turn different angles. But to a casual observer, some are subtle enough to pass, and the trajectory of deepfakes has already shown how quickly they can become indistinguishable from reality. Some experts argue that the quality of the deepfake also doesn’t really matter because the psychological toll on victims can be the same either way. And many members of the public remain unaware that such technology exists, so even low-quality face swaps can be capable of fooling people.

To this day, I’ve never been successful fully in getting any of the images taken down. Forever, that will be out there. No matter what I do.

Noelle Martin, an Australian activist

Y bills itself as a safe and responsible tool for exploring sexual fantasies. The language on the site encourages users to upload their own face. But nothing prevents them from uploading other people’s faces, and comments on online forums suggest that users have already been doing just that.

The consequences for women and girls targeted by such activity can be crushing. At a psychological level, these videos can feel as violating as revenge porn—real intimate videos filmed or released without consent. “This kind of abuse—where people misrepresent your identity, name, reputation, and alter it in such violating ways—shatters you to the core,” says Noelle Martin, an Australian activist who has been targeted by a deepfake porn campaign.

And the repercussions can stay with victims for life. The images and videos are difficult to remove from the internet, and new material can be created at any time. “It affects your interpersonal relations; it affects you with getting jobs. Every single job interview you ever go for, this might be brought up. Potential romantic relationships,” Martin says. “To this day, I’ve never been successful fully in getting any of the images taken down. Forever, that will be out there. No matter what I do.”

Sometimes it’s even more complicated than revenge porn. Because the content is not real, women can doubt whether they deserve to feel traumatized and whether they should report it, says Dodge. “If somebody is wrestling with whether they’re even really a victim, it impairs their ability to recover,” he says.

Nonconsensual deepfake porn can also have economic and career impacts. Rana Ayyub, an Indian journalist who became a victim of a deepfake porn campaign, received such intense online harassment in its aftermath that she had to minimize her online presence and thus the public profile required to do her work. Helen Mort, a UK-based poet and broadcaster who previously shared her story with MIT Technology Review, said she felt pressure to do the same after discovering that photos of her had been stolen from private social media accounts to create fake nudes.

The Revenge Porn Helpline funded by the UK government recently received a case from a teacher who lost her job after deepfake pornographic images of her were circulated on social media and brought to her school’s attention, says Sophie Mortimer, who manages the service. “It’s getting worse, not better,” Dodge says. “More women are being targeted this way.”

Y’s option to create deepfake gay porn, though limited, poses an additional threat to men in countries where homosexuality is criminalized, says Ajder. This is the case in 71 jurisdictions globally, 11 of which punish the offense by death.

Ajder, who has discovered numerous deepfake porn apps in the last few years, says he has attempted to contact Y’s hosting service and force it offline. But he’s pessimistic about preventing similar tools from being created. Already, another site has popped up that seems to be attempting the same thing. He thinks banning such content from social media platforms, and perhaps even making their creation or consumption illegal, would prove a more sustainable solution. “That means that these websites are treated in the same way as dark web material,” he says. “Even if it gets driven underground, at least it puts that out of the eyes of everyday people.”

Y did not respond to multiple requests for comment at the press email listed on its site. The registration information associated with the domain is also blocked by the privacy service Withheld for Privacy. On August 17, after MIT Technology Review made a third attempt to reach the creator, the site put up a notice on its homepage saying it’s no longer available to new users. As of September 12, the notice was still there.

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A pro-China online influence campaign is targeting the rare-earths industry

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A pro-China online influence campaign is targeting the rare-earths industry


China has come to dominate the market in recent years, and by 2017 the country produced over 80% of the world’s supply. Beijing achieved this by pouring resources into the study and mining of rare-earth elements for decades, building up six big state-owned firms and relaxing environmental regulations to enable low-cost and high-pollution methods. The country then rapidly increased rare-earth exports in the 1990s, a sudden rush that bankrupted international rivals. Further development of rare-earth industries is a strategic goal under Beijing’s Made in China 2025 strategy.

The country has demonstrated its dominance several times, most notably by stopping all shipments of the resources to Japan in 2010 during a maritime dispute. State media have warned that China could do the same to the United States.

The US and other Western nations have seen this monopoly as a critical weakness for their side. As a result, they have spent billions in recent years to get better at finding, mining, and processing the minerals. 

In early June 2022, the Canadian mining company Appia announced it had found new resources in Saskatchewan. Within weeks, the American firm USA Rare Earth announced a new processing facility in Oklahoma. 

Dragonbridge engaged in similar activity in 2021, soon after the American military signed an agreement with the Australian mining firm Lynas, the largest rare-earths company outside China, to build a processing plant in Texas. 

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The U.S. only has 60,000 charging stations for EVs. Here’s where they all are.

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The U.S. only has 60,000 charging stations for EVs. Here’s where they all are.


The infrastructure bill that passed in November 2021 earmarked $7.5 billion for President Biden’s goal of having 500,000 chargers (individual plugs, not stations) around the nation. In the best case, Michalek envisions a public-private collaboration to build a robust national charging network. The Biden administration has pledged to install plugs throughout rural areas, while companies constructing charging stations across America will have a strong incentive to fill in the country’s biggest cities and most popular thoroughfares. After all, companies like Electrify America, EVgo, and ChargePoint charge customers per kilowatt-hour of energy they use, much like utilities.

Most new electric vehicles promise at least 250 miles on a full charge, and that number should keep ticking up. The farther cars can go without charging, the fewer anxious drivers will be stuck in lines waiting for a charging space to open. But make no mistake, Michalek says: an electric-car country needs a plethora of plugs, and soon.

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We need smarter cities, not “smart cities”

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We need smarter cities, not “smart cities”


The term “smart cities” originated as a marketing strategy for large IT vendors. It has now become synonymous with urban uses of technology, particularly advanced and emerging technologies. But cities are more than 5G, big data, driverless vehicles, and AI. They are crucial drivers of opportunity, prosperity, and progress. They support those displaced by war and crisis and generate 80% of global GDP. More than 68% of the world’s population will live in cities by 2050—2.5 billion more people than do now. And with over 90% of urban areas located on coasts, cities are on the front lines of climate change.

A focus on building “smart cities” risks turning cities into technology projects. We talk about “users” rather than people. Monthly and “daily active” numbers instead of residents. Stakeholders and subscribers instead of citizens. This also risks a transactional—and limiting—approach to city improvement, focusing on immediate returns on investment or achievements that can be distilled into KPIs. 

Truly smart cities recognize the ambiguity of lives and livelihoods, and they are driven by outcomes beyond the implementation of “solutions.” They are defined by their residents’ talents, relationships, and sense of ownership—not by the technology that is deployed there. 

This more expansive concept of what a smart city is encompasses a wide range of urban innovations. Singapore, which is exploring high-tech approaches such as drone deliveries and virtual-reality modeling, is one type of smart city. Curitiba, Brazil—a pioneer of the bus rapid transit system—is another. Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe, with its passively cooled shopping center designed in 1996, is a smart city, as are the “sponge cities” across China that use nature-based solutions to manage rainfall and floodwater.

Where technology can play a role, it must be applied thoughtfully and holistically—taking into account the needs, realities, and aspirations of city residents. Guatemala City, in collaboration with our country office team at the UN Development Programme, is using this approach to improve how city infrastructure—including parks and lighting—is managed. The city is standardizing materials and designs to reduce costs and labor,  and streamlining approval and allocation processes to increase the speed and quality of repairs and maintenance. Everything is driven by the needs of its citizens. Elsewhere in Latin America, cities are going beyond quantitative variables to take into account well-being and other nuanced outcomes. 

In her 1961 book The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jane Jacobs, the pioneering American urbanist, discussed the importance of sidewalks. In the context of the city, they are conduits for adventure, social interaction, and unexpected encounters—what Jacobs termed the “sidewalk ballet.” Just as literal sidewalks are crucial to the urban experience, so is the larger idea of connection between elements.

Truly smart cities recognize the ambiguity of lives and livelihoods, and they are driven by outcomes beyond the implementation of “solutions.”

However, too often we see “smart cities” focus on discrete deployments of technology rather than this connective tissue. We end up with cities defined by “use cases” or “platforms.” Practically speaking, the vision of a tech-centric city is conceptually, financially, and logistically out of reach for many places. This can lead officials and innovators to dismiss the city’s real and substantial potential to reduce poverty while enhancing inclusion and sustainability.

In our work at the UN Development Programme, we focus on the interplay between different components of a truly smart city—the community, the local government, and the private sector. We also explore the different assets made available by this broader definition: high-tech innovations, yes, but also low-cost, low-tech innovations and nature-based solutions. Big data, but also the qualitative, richer detail behind the data points. The connections and “sidewalks”—not just the use cases or pilot programs. We see our work as an attempt to start redefining smart cities and increasing the size, scope, and usefulness of our urban development tool kit.

We continue to explore how digital technology might enhance cities—for example, we are collaborating with major e-commerce platforms across Africa that are transforming urban service delivery. But we are also shaping this broader tool kit to tackle the urban impacts of climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution. 

The UrbanShift initiative, led by the UN Environment Programme in partnership with UNDP and many others, is working with cities to promote nature-based solutions, low-carbon public transport, low-emission zones, integrated waste management, and more. This approach focuses not just on implementation, but also on policies and guiderails. The UNDP Smart Urban Innovations Handbook aims to help policymakers and urban innovators explore how they might embed “smartness” in any city.

Our work at the United Nations is driven by the Sustainable Development Goals: 17 essential, ambitious, and urgent global targets that aim to shape a better world by 2030. Truly smart cities would play a role in meeting all 17 SDGs, from tackling poverty and inequality to protecting and improving biodiversity. 

Coordinating and implementing the complex efforts required to reach these goals is far more difficult than deploying the latest app or installing another piece of smart street furniture. But we must move beyond the sales pitches and explore how our cities can be true platforms—not just technological ones—for inclusive and sustainable development. The well-being of the billions who call the world’s cities home depends on it.

Riad Meddeb is interim director of the UNDP Global Centre for Technology, Innovation, and Sustainable Development. Calum Handforth is an advisor for digitalization, digital health, and smart cities at the UNDP Global Centre.

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