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Sen. Durbin questions <strong>google</strong> over sexually explicit deepfakes
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Sen. Durbin raises alarm about sexually explicit deepfakes on google

In a letter to Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai, the Senate Judiciary Committee chair asked for more details about how the company is combating deepfakes.
Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., attends a news conference outside the U.S. Capitol
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill.Tom Williams / CQ-Roll Call Inc. via Getty Images

Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Dick Durbin, D-Ill., sent a letter Monday asking Sundar Pichai, the CEO of google’s parent company, Alphabet, for details about how the platform plans to combat nonconsensual sexually explicit deepfakes. 

google search results for the word “deepfakes” and names of female celebrities often return links to such material when safety features are turned off, allowing web traffic to skyrocket to websites where people can view and even purchase nonconsensual sexually explicit deepfakes. The google Play app store has also hosted tools that advertise the ability to create such material, while YouTube (also owned and operated by Alphabet) hosts viral fake news videos that use deepfake technology.

Deepfakes are deceptive digital media that are generated or altered using artificial intelligence. One of the most prevalent kinds of deepfakes features the faces of women and girls “swapped” into pornographic content. The material often features celebrities, but it has increasingly been used to victimize girls at middle and high schools around the world.  

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,” Durbin wrote in the letter, which was shared exclusively with NBC News. “While Alphabet has recently taken limited steps to address these issues, the company must be more aggressive in its efforts.” 

Durbin has been one of the senators leading the national legislative charge against the growing threat of nonconsensual sexually explicit deepfakes. His Disrupt Explicit Forged Images and Non-Consensual Edits Act of 2024 (the DEFIANCE Act) would create a pathway for deepfake victims to sue the creators and distributors of the material. Last week, Durbin requested unanimous consent to pass the legislation, which was met with one objection from Sen. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo.

In his letter to Pichai, Durbin highlighted data collected by independent researcher Genevieve Oh, who found that the number of nonconsensual sexually explicit deepfake videos uploaded online has increased “ninefold” since 2019, with videos being viewed almost 4 billion times. The vast majority depict women with prominent public-facing careers, Durbin’s letter said.

“The generation and dissemination of nonconsensual, sexually-explicit deepfakes are acts of abuse and violations of privacy that inflict lasting harms on victims,” Durbin wrote, further suggesting that google’s practice of asking deepfake victims to fill out takedown forms for search results including the material is insufficient. “Alphabet cannot simply place the onus on harmed individuals to police this material.” 

Durbin ended the letter by asking Alphabet for information by June 28, including what steps google is taking to remove URLs from search results that direct to nonconsensual sexually explicit deepfakes and the apps used to create them and how google Play is enforcing its terms of service against apps being used to create deepfakes.