Consider Your Data Privacy When Making MyHeritage ‘Deepfakes’

Consider Your Data Privacy When Making MyHeritage ‘Deepfakes’
Screenshot: David Murphy

One should always get a little privacy-sceptical when there’s a new flavour-of-the-week meme making the rounds. This time, it’s MyHeritage’s “Deep Nostalgia” photo animation tool, which renders pretty realistic deepfake animations from images you upload to the service.

The premise is simple: It’s a fun way to get an idea of what a person might have been like as a living, breathing human being. So, if you have a super-old photo of your grandparents sitting around somewhere, you can upload it to the site, let the deepfake tool work its magic, and feel that warm, fuzzy nostalgia that only comes from a static image of something ancient now moving around.

I mean, I don’t really get it myself, but I suppose it brings comfort and joy to some during these still-in-a-pandemic times, so I won’t fault anyone for using MyHeritage. However, I did want to take a moment to chat about digital privacy related to the content you’re all just blindly tossing over to the site.

To start, MyHeritage asks you to create an account in order to play around with the Deep Nostalgia tool. That’s reasonable, but if you’re just planning to try the tool with a few photos and never go back to the site, you probably don’t need to cough up your actual email address, name, or birth year. (I’m always a fan of the free 10 Minute Mail service for just this purpose.)

Screenshot: David Murphy Screenshot: David Murphy

Also, know that anything you send over to MyHeritage’s site — as its Terms and Conditions stipulate — gives the company “a royalty-free, worldwide, perpetual and non-exclusive licence to host, copy, post and distribute such content.” That probably won’t matter for most people, but know that it’s a possibility, much as it is for many sites around the web that you interact with.

Not actually me moving (Screenshot: David Murphy) Not actually me moving (Screenshot: David Murphy)

Once you’ve uploaded a photo and had MyHeritage’s tool make it all animated, the original photo will exist in the your “My Photos” archive. If you’re done with it, make sure you visit that portion of MyHeritage’s site and delete it — no sense keeping it around, even though it’s unclear what, if anything, happens to the animated version on MyHeritage’s servers.

(I should also note that clicking on a photo and selecting the “Animate” button in the editor allows you to pick from up to ten different artificial animations — much more than the single one you get from MyHeritage’s regular tool.)

Screenshot: David Murphy Screenshot: David Murphy

Once you’ve had your fun and created a few animations — or run up against whatever limit MyHeritage has for free, watermarked ones — don’t forget to delete your images and your account. For the latter, simply visit your account settings (via the icon in the upper-right corner of the MyHeritage website). On the very first page, you’ll see a prompt to delete your account:

Screenshot: David Murphy Screenshot: David Murphy

Click that blue link under the big, red text to get started. Doing so, in theory, deletes any and all data you’ve uploaded to MyHeritage’s servers, and it ensures that this kind of thing doesn’t linger around once you’ve finished playing around with the service.

Is this truly necessary to maintain your privacy? Honestly, I can’t really see anyone other than yourself and your immediate family taking an interest in your old photos. However, this is a habit you want to get used to with any sites you’re signing up for, especially if you’re the kind of person who likes to reuse passwords across sites (don’t) or have decided to submit more personal data to MyHeritage than the basic information you need to give up to create an account.

It’s never a bad idea to reduce the size of your digital footprint, and that’s especially true if, or when, you’re creating accounts to try out some hot new thing on the web that you will invariably forget about a few weeks (or months) from now. While odds are good that your passing interest in deepfakes won’t come back to haunt you, the 20 other accounts you create each year for this, that, or the other could pose a security, privacy, or phishing problem at some future point. Even if they don’t — why keep them around if you’re never going to use them again?

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