In a letter to Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai, Durbin writes: “Alphabet cannot simply place the onus on harmed individuals to police this material … [it] must expand this work in de-platforming sites that host or promote nonconsensual sexually-explicit deepfakes, or apps that create this content”

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CHICAGO – U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, today pressed Sundar Pichai, the CEO of Google’s parent company Alphabet, on its role in enabling the explosion in nonconsensual, sexually-explicit deepfakes online.

Durbin begins by outlining how Google products fuel the spread of this material, writing: “Google Search drives users to apps that produce nonconsensual, sexually-explicit deepfakes and platforms that host it. Google Play makes available apps that are used to create nonconsensual, sexually-explicit deepfakes. And YouTube hosts tutorials on how to create nonconsensual, sexually-explicit deepfakes. While Alphabet has recently taken limited steps to address these issues, the company must be more aggressive in its efforts.”

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Applications to create deepfakes are widely available and take limited to no special expertise or equipment. The rise in these applications has caused middle schools and high schools around the country to grapple with shocking acts of image-based abuse committed by students against other students.

Durbin shared a story of an incident in Illinois, among others, as part of an explosion of nonconsensual deepfake pornography, writing: “In March, for instance, at least 22 students at Richmond-Burton High School, which is north of Chicago, learned they were depicted in deepfakes circulating online. In another case, an alleged offender manipulated a photograph of two students from the school prom to digitally remove their dresses so they appeared nude … These examples are indicative of the explosion of nonconsensual deepfake pornography currently taking place.”

Reports show that Alphabet has enabled the amplification of deepfake pornography. One report found that two of the largest websites that host sexually-explicit deepfake videos are easily accessible through Google Search, which was further corroborated with reporting that Google was the single largest driver of traffic to the top 20 deepfake sites from July 2020 to July 2023. Another report found that apps used to make deepfake pornography are available in the Google Play Store, some of which have been downloaded more than 100 million times.

Durbin underscores that while Google has valuable tools for victims and survivors and has begun takingaction on addressing the proliferation of deepfakes, they do not abdicate Alphabet of its role in preventing the dissemination of this content, writing: “While these are valuable tools for victims and survivors, they do not discharge Alphabet’s obligation to stem the tide of this harmful content. Alphabet cannot simply place the onus on harmed individuals to police this material … However, even with this new approach, sites sharing nonconsensual, sexually-explicit deepfakes can still be discovered through Google Search. To meet the urgency of the moment, Alphabet must expand this work in de-platforming sites that host or promote nonconsensual sexually-explicit deepfakes, or apps that create this content.”

Durbin concludes with a series of information requests with a deadline of June 28, 2024.

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