For a glimpse of the AI-generated misery fast accelerating onto our screens thanks to developments in synthetic media that are powering ever more sophisticated forms of deception, check out this clip of UK consumer finance champion Martin Lewis apparently shilling an investment opportunity backed by Elon Musk.
Except of course the footage (also embedded in the below tweet) is an AI-generated deepfake and the investment opportunity is a scam not backed by Musk or Lewis. The latter also makes a point of never appearing in adverts to endorse third party products or services, not that that stops scammers repeatedly misappropriating his image for social media ads to try to trick people into parting with their money…
Per Lewis, who was interviewed about the deepfake on ITV’s Good Morning Britain (GMB), the video of him shilling an investment scam has been circulating on Facebook. And boy is he livid about that — given he already went to the trouble of suing the tech giant for inaction over scam ads carrying his image, launching defamation litigation back in 2018 in a bid to use his celebrity to shame the tech giant into doing something to stop the scammers.
“This is going around on Facebook at the moment,” Lewis said of the deepfake video. “This, as far as I know, is the first deepfake scam advert that we’ve seen. It’s certainly the first with me in. It’s an absolutely terrifying development. This is still only early stages of the technology. And they are only going to get better.”
“I am viscerally angry about this,” he added. “People will know I have been campaigning for proper regulation of scam adverts for years.”
Lewis settled his defamation suit against Facebook in 2019 after it agreed to make some changes to how it operates, saying it would offer a report ad button to UK users to make it easier for them to report dubious ads. It also committed to contribute funding worth £3M to help set up a citizens’ scam advice service.
But of course that’s a drop in the ocean of money Brits routinely lose to scammers. (Last year losses to UK consumers and businesses from fraud and financial scams hit a record £1.3BN.)
It’s also drop in the ocean of Facebook’s parent Meta’s revenue (full year earnings for 2022 were an eye-watering $116.61BN), which it generates by selling access to behavioral ad-targeting tools which are powered by its pervasive tracking and profiling of web users.
Meta’s ad tools are essentially doing the heavy lifting for scammers behind ads like the Lewis deepfake — since, once the scammers have crafted an enticing deceptive message, they can plug it straight into the high scale ad-targeting tools it offers to ensure the scam lands in the feeds of users who are most susceptible (and vulnerable) to being taken in by it, leveraging Meta’s ongoing mass surveillance of web users to reach fresh victims.
Asked for a response to the deepfake a spokesperson for Meta told TechCrunch it’s investigating.
The company also sent us this statement — claiming:
We don’t allow this kind of advert on our platforms and the original video was proactively removed by our teams, we also removed a number of copycat adverts using the same imagery.
However it did not provide a direct response when we asked how it had allowed yet another scam bearing Lewis’ explicit liking — albeit, this time, the fake moves and talks in a voice that sounds remarkably like the real deal — to be uploaded to its platform.
While Facebook/Meta gets directly named and shamed by Lewis, the consumer champion is also angry at the UK government for failing to tackle the scam ads issue.
In the interview with GMB, he hit out at the lack of response from the government following two consultations on online ads. And while the Online Safety Bill was expanded to cover scam ads last year, following campaigning by the likes of Lewis, he also attacked the length of time it’s taking to pass the legislation, with the bill still picking its way through parliament — leaving UK web users at the mercy of ad platforms’ tepid enforcement of their own T&Cs in the meanwhile.
“We still have an absolute wild west on social media and other Big Tech advertising platforms that allows scammers to get away with impunity,” warned Lewis, adding: “What I want everyone watching to remember is every time you see one of those adverts one of the Big Tech firms is being paid to promote that advert. And these destroy vulnerable people — and many non-vulnerable people’s lives.”