UK Blocks Access to Largest Deepfake Pornography Website

By Matt Burgess

Two of the biggest deepfake pornography websites have now started blocking people trying to access them from the United Kingdom. The move comes days after the UK government announced plans for a new law that will make creating nonconsensual deepfakes a criminal offense.

Nonconsensual deepfake pornography websites and apps that “strip” clothes off of photos have been growing at an alarming rate—causing untold harm to the thousands of women they are used to target.

Clare McGlynn, a professor of law at Durham University, says the move is a “hugely significant moment” in the fight against deepfake abuse. “This ends the easy access and the normalization of deepfake sexual abuse material,” McGlynn tells WIRED.

Deepfake technology, first introduced in December 2017, has consistently been utilized to generate unsolicited sexual images of women by swapping their faces into pornographic videos or creating new “nude” images. With the technology’s progression and ease of access, numerous websites and applications have emerged. Recently, cases of schoolchildren generating nudes of their peers have been reported.

The blocking of deepfake websites in the UK was noticed today. The leading services display notices, stating they’re inaccessible to visitors from the country. We’re refraining from naming these websites due to their contribution to abuse.

The biggest deepfake pornography website today has put a restriction, denying access to UK visitors. Explaining the reason as laws or potential legislation, it shows the visitor’s IP address and country.

Another website, having an associated app, provides a similar message, indicating possible ways to bypass the geographic restriction. These websites do not seem to have restrictions for visitors from the United States; however, restrictions might be in place for other countries.

It is not immediately clear why the sites have introduced the location blocks or whether they have done so in response to any legal orders or notices. Nor is it clear whether the blocks are temporary. Messages sent to the websites through email addresses and contact forms went unanswered. The creators of the websites have not posted any public messages on the websites or their social media channels about the blocks.

Ofcom, the UK’s communications regulator, has the power to persue action against harmful websites under the UK’s controversial sweeping online safety laws that came into force last year. However, these powers are not yet fully operational, and Ofcom is still consulting on them.

It’s likely the restrictions may significantly limit the amount of people in the UK seeking out or trying to create deepfake sexual abuse content. Data from Similarweb, a digital intelligence company, shows the biggest of the two websites had 12 million global visitors last month, while the other website had 4 million visitors. In the UK, they had around 500,000 and 50,000 visitors, respectively.

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Matt Burgess

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Jessica Rawnsley

This week, politicians in the UK announced plans for a law that criminalizes the creation of nonconsensual deepfakes. Under the law, which is yet to be passed, people could face an unlimited fine if they create deepfakes to “cause alarm, humiliation, or distress to the victim.” This builds on previous provisions that make it illegal for people in the UK to share sexualized deepfakes.

“While it’s unclear if these platforms have been ordered to block UK access or have done so proactively due to the recent criminalization, it shows legislation can make a meaningful difference in removing the legal ambiguity that many deepfake pornography platforms use as cover for the clear ethical harms they cause,” Henry Ajder, an AI and deepfake expert, tells WIRED. Ajder adds that search engines and hosting providers around the world should be doing more to limit the spread and creation of harmful deepfakes.

While the two websites can still be accessed in the UK using a VPN, the restrictions are a sign that constant pressure—from lawmakers, tech companies, and campaigners—can make deepfake porn harder to access and create. “Of course, people will be able to use VPN to access these websites and apps, but that introduces friction,” Durham University’s McGlynn says. “It introduces a message that there’s something wrong and harmful about this material such that you have to use a VPN to access it.”

“Hopefully,” McGlynn adds, “this can show other governments around the world that if we take steps, we could actually reduce the prevalence [of] and easy access to deepfake sexual abuse material.”

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