Deepfake gambling ads exploit fame of celebrities in Bangladesh

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Artificial intelligence, AI, Gambling platform, Casinos

In Bangladesh, the integration of artificial intelligence (AI) in recent years has sparked transformative changes across multiple sectors, presenting remarkable opportunities and advancements. However, alongside its benefits, AI has also been exploited for dubious ends. A concerning trend involves the manipulation of AI to fabricate advertisements featuring renowned celebrities from sports, entertainment, and social media to endorse gambling platforms. These deceptive ads, strikingly similar to authentic endorsements, have proliferated, deceiving the public and exacerbating the prevalence of online gambling addiction.

Gambling, traditionally conducted in casinos or through bookmakers, has now found a new home in the digital world. With smart phones becoming ubiquitous, gambling has become more accessible than ever, morphing into ‘Betting Sites’ or ‘Casino Games’. This digital shift has brought gambling right into people’s hands and pockets, making it an ‘open secret’ within society. The allure of quick money and the convenience of online platforms have enticed many, particularly the youth, into this dangerous pastime.

AI technology has enabled the creation of highly realistic fake advertisements. These ads use deepfake techniques to mimic the faces, voices, and expressions of famous personalities, making it appear as though they are genuinely endorsing gambling sites. Celebrities like Mashrafe Bin Mortaza, Shakib Al Hasan, Tamim Iqbal, Mushfiqur Rahim, actress Jaya Ahsan, and singer Porshi have all been falsely featured in these deceptive ads.

A study conducted by a Dhaka-based fact-checking organization revealed that at least 150 million taka is spent annually on gambling advertisements targeting Bangladesh. On a single day, they identified up to 4,000 gambling ads aimed at Bangladeshi users on Facebook. These ads increase significantly during major sports events like the Indian Premier League or the Bangladesh Premier League, capitalizing on heightened public interest.

Deepfake technology, which involves using AI to create hyper-realistic fake videos and images, is the cornerstone of these misleading advertisements. Cybersecurity expert Abdullah Al Jaber explains that deepfake videos can be created using various platforms that offer free, trial, and premium content creation services. Platforms like ‘Synthesia’ and ‘Runway’ are commonly used for such purposes, offering advanced features for premium subscribers.

For instance, a deepfake video might show cricket star Shakib Al Hasan promoting a gambling platform called ‘Time Crazy’, urging viewers to invest and win large sums of money. Similarly, another deepfake might depict Mushfiqur Rahim endorsing a new gambling app, claiming it to be safe and lucrative. These videos often utilize clips and images from legitimate sources, such as social media posts or television appearances, to enhance their credibility.

The celebrities whose images and voices are being used without permission feel socially embarrassed and violated. Cricketer Tamim Iqbal, for example, has publicly stated that he has never endorsed gambling platforms and continues to receive such offers, which he consistently rejects. Actress Apu Biswas has also expressed her distress over these activities, emphasizing the negative impact on youth.

The social implications of this trend are profound. Online gambling, especially when promoted through such deceptive means, can lead to addiction, financial ruin, and a host of associated social problems. Families can be torn apart, and the ripple effect can lead to broader societal degradation. Dr. Moshiur Rahman, a former professor of sociology, highlights that while gambling was once a niche issue, it has now become a widespread problem facilitated by digital media. This new wave of online gambling is seen as deviant behavior that can give rise to more serious crimes.

Social media giants like Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and LinkedIn have introduced measures to declare AI-generated content. However, these measures often do not extend to advertising campaigns. Munaf Mujib Chowdhury, a partner director at HTTPpool, notes that identifying AI-generated content in ads is still a challenge. It often relies on users reporting suspicious content, which then gets reviewed by a content team. This reactive approach is inadequate given the scale and sophistication of the problem.

Broadband Internet Service Providers (ISPs) also play a role in the dissemination of these gambling ads. Many ISPs offer File Transfer Protocol (FTP) services that allow users to download content from their servers. Investigations have found that gambling advertisements are embedded in digital content distributed through these FTP servers. This practice further complicates efforts to curb the spread of these ads, as it leverages the infrastructure of major ISPs.

The Dhaka Metropolitan Police’s Counter-Terrorism and Transnational Crime Cyber Crime Division has stated that they monitor all types of gambling campaigns, including those involving AI. Posting such content without permission is a violation of Section 24 of the Cyber Security Act, and legal action is taken against offenders. However, the sheer volume and sophistication of these campaigns make enforcement challenging.

Celebrities are urged to take a proactive stance against these fake advertisements. They can report the misuse of their likeness to social media platforms and law enforcement agencies. Public figures can also issue statements on their social media accounts to clarify their non-involvement with gambling promotions, helping to mitigate the impact of these deepfakes.

For the general public, raising awareness about the existence and risks of deepfake ads is crucial. Understanding that these highly convincing advertisements are fraudulent can help prevent individuals from falling prey to gambling addiction.

The misuse of AI to create fake gambling advertisements is a growing concern that requires immediate attention from all stakeholders, including social media platforms, ISPs, law enforcement agencies, celebrities, and the public. While technology has the power to transform industries and improve lives, it also poses significant risks when used unethically. Addressing the issue of fake gambling ads involves not only technological solutions but also legal, social, and educational efforts to protect vulnerable populations from the dangers of online gambling.

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