More than 680,000 women have had their photographs used on the Telegram messaging app without their knowledge or consent. This is according to visual threat intelligence firm, Sensity.
The bots, which use generative adversarial networks, create photo-realistic simulated nudes of clothed people from one image. They can be accessed on Telegram, where they are used for extortion, blackmail and harassment.
Deepfake ecosystem on Telegram
Messaging apps are essentially mediums for communication, but they can also be platforms for illegal activities. In a recent investigation, security firm Sensity AI (formerly Deeptrace Labs) revealed a “deepfake ecosystem” on Telegram that allows people to exchange nonconsensual nude images of strangers. The bots use machine learning to create nude versions of clothed photos, and their popularity is growing rapidly.
The bots, which are operated on Telegram’s platform, use a software known as DeepNude to transform photos into nudes. This machine learning algorithm uses a technique called generative adversarial networks to create fake skin and muscle from an image of a person’s body. It was previously used to make pornographic videos and has even been abused by terrorists to extort money from victims.
Sensity’s investigation found that the Telegram bots were mostly marketed through Russian social media platform VK, where they had presence in at least 380 pages. They’re likely based on an open-source version of DeepNude, which gained notoriety in 2019 when Vice published a report about the app and prompted its creator to take it down.
The Telegram deepfake bots are free to use, but they offer premium perks such as removing watermarks from the stripped photos and skipping the queue for processing requests. The number of nude images exchanged on the bots’ channels has grown by 198% in the last three months, according to the researchers.
Bots powering trade of fake nudes
Since before Photoshop existed, nonconsensual fake nudes of women have been created with varying degrees of skill and success. Now, the emergence of deepfake technology is making it much easier to create and sell these forgeries. The software is like a high-speed conveyor belt of Photoshop on steroids, and it can be used to generate images that are almost indistinguishable from the originals.
While there are legitimate uses for this technology, it has also been used to exploit vulnerable people. For example, one woman in Cuba told the BBC that a nude picture she had only shared with her friend ended up on a Telegram group with more than 18,000 members. This led to strangers harassing her and attempting to blackmail her for money.
In addition to allowing people to post nude images on public channels, Telegram allows users to create groups and channels where they can share private content. Unfortunately, these groups aren’t moderated, and even though the company tries to keep its platform clean by working with law enforcement agencies, it doesn’t seem to be able to stop the proliferation of these kinds of messages.
Some of these channels may have been shut down because the creators were no longer using the app, but others continue to exist and can be accessed by searching for specific hashtags or keywords. If you’re in a country where it is illegal to access such content, you will get the message “This Channel Can Not Be Displayed” when trying to visit them.
Police arrest a dozen men
A group of women found that their private images were being shared without their consent on Telegram. They were subjected to harassment, threats, and blackmail. This is a serious issue and should be addressed.
A woman named Victoria says her boyfriend Gabriel secretly took nude telegram photos of her and posted them on Telegram. She was appalled when she discovered his behavior and contacted police. She claims police were unhelpful, telling her that the issue was out of their jurisdiction. She also believes the NYPD was asking her questions that crossed a line. She decided to reach out to a Canadian police department for help. But she soon ran into the same problem, and the Canadian police weren’t able to help her either.
The victims were targeted by a gang that included men and women who used the app to contact potential victims. The gang would then blackmail the victims and ask for money. The victims were forced to take pictures and videos of themselves performing sexual acts, including gruesome ones.
The gang was led by an Indian woman, who is now in police custody. She and her aides used Telegram to trap the victims by posing as models or introducing themselves as nannies. Then, the victims were sent to a remote location where they were tortured, raped, and made to perform a variety of sexual acts. The gang also filmed the victims and posted these videos on social media.
After the BBC investigated Telegram, it found large groups and channels sharing thousands of leaked private photos of women from across the world. They were accompanied by personal details such as home addresses and parents’ phone numbers, connecting the victims to their attackers for use in blackmail, stalking or harassment. The BBC also saw group admins asking subscribers to share intimate images of previous partners, colleagues or fellow students with a bot that then automatically published the images, without revealing the sender’s identity.
The bots’ abuse of photos on Telegram is particularly disturbing because they can target women anywhere in the world. This is because unlike other social media platforms, Telegram does not restrict groups to specific locations or allow users to create private chats. As such, the app can be used by people from all over the world, making it a popular choice for those looking to abuse others.
Moreover, Telegram’s tenacious commitment to free speech and privacy has allowed it to attract those who have been banned from other apps like Instagram and Twitter. These users often use the app to organize and coordinate terrorist activities, facilitate piracy and copyright infringement, and harbor varieties of predatory pornography.
Although Apple’s App Store policies require apps to provide a means for users to report objectionable content, Telegram hasn’t done so. Instead, the company has opted to remove apps that don’t comply with its rules after receiving a user report.