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Microsoft to help combat deepfakes in the run up to 2024 elections

Microsoft is also set to help election candidates navigate challenges posed by AI by deploying what it calls a “Campaign Success Team” which will “advise and support campaigns as they navigate the world of AI.”

Microsoft is set to launch a service where election candidates can digitally sign and authenticate content through digital watermarking. This service, which Microsoft calls ‘Content Credentials as a Service’ uses the Coalition for Content Provenance and Authenticity’s (C2PA) digital watermarking credentials— a set of metadata that encodes details about the content’s place of origin using cryptography. 

Content with the digital watermark will have details of how, when, and by whom the content was created or edited, including if it was generated by artificial intelligence (AI), as is the case with deepfakes. “When a user encounters an image or video that contains Content Credentials, they can learn about its creator and origin by clicking on an embedded pin that reveals the asset’s history,” Microsft explains in its blog post. This service launches in the spring as a private preview, which will first be made available to political campaigns.

What is C2PA and how does it work?

C2PA is a joint foundation of Adobe, Arm, Intel, Microsoft and Truepic that combines the efforts of Adobe’s Content Authenticity Initiative (CAI) and Project Origin (a coalition of the BBC, CBC/Radio-Canada, The New York Times, and Microsoft). The idea behind C2PA is to provide publishers, creators, and consumers with flexible ways to understand the authenticity and provenance of different types of media. 

In essence, if an image is captured with a C2PA-enabled camera, its origin history is captured and recorded. This image can then be signed by the publisher to establish their ownership over it. If this photo is edited, these edits can also be recorded in the watermark.

C2PA’s digital watermarking shows up as an information prompt (pictured below) to highlight the source of the piece of content. If a piece of content has been tampered with, the information prompt will turn yellow and the information panel will tell the viewer that the content’s authenticity cannot be verified. 

                                                                   How C2PA discloses content history


Why it matters:

With elections due in multiple parts of the world in 2024, the issue of deep fakes has been gaining prominence. Recently, in India, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) has been cracking down on social media platforms urging them to get rid of deepfakes or risk being held liable for the content posted by third parties on their platforms. Content watermarking efforts like C2PA should ideally help users and social media platform operates to identify and flag deepfake content.

One issue that remains to be addressed is that of screenshots. As of now, the term ‘screenshot’ is notably missing from the detailed description of C2PA’s specifications. If you go to Adobe CAI’s  (a member of C2PA) website, you will see that it is unable to preserve the metadata of the original file. To access this metadata you would have to use CAI’s verify tool and upload the screenshot for verification, something which the average person might not bother doing. If the same is true for C2PA as a whole, it raises the question: If it is so easy to cheat the watermarking system, is it really an effective solution to the deepfake problem?

Other election-centric cybersecurity efforts by Microsoft:

The company says that it will help election candidates navigate challenges posed by AI by deploying what it calls a “Campaign Success Team”. This team will, “advise and support campaigns as they navigate the world of AI, combat the spread of cyber influence campaigns, and protect the authenticity of their own content and images.”

It will also provide candidates with access to an “Election Communications Hub”. This will “provide election authorities with access to Microsoft security and support teams in the days and weeks leading up to their election, allowing them to reach out and get swift support if they run into any major security challenges.” This hub is built on top of Microsoft’s pre-existing security programs such as Azure for Elections and will be available to the US state and local election agencies and their partners.

The company is endorsing the US-bipartisan bill “Protect Elections from Deceptive AI Act” and says that it will provide voters with authoritative election information, by promoting trusted sources of news around the world on Bing. It also says that it will publish regular reports on foreign malign influence researched and reported by the Microsoft Threat Analysis Center (MTAC) team.

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