Tencent To Ban AI Avatars From Livestream Commerce

Chinese tech giant Tencent has begun restricting AI-powered virtual hosts from its live-streaming commerce platforms, amidst moves to place controls on realistic “deepfake” technologies.

The move comes amidst broader concerns over the potential misuse of AI as the technology becomes ever more advanced and easily available.

Weixin Channel, the video platform of Tencent’s “everything app” WeChat, published a draft of new rules covering “low-quality content” which bars the use of “plug-ins, AI and other tools to generate avatars for live streaming”, local media reported.

“Teaching and selling virtual human software” would be regarded as “confrontational behaviour” and banned, the draft says, according to a report by the South China Morning Post.

JD.com virtual host Xiaomei in e-commerce livestreams on WeChat. Image credit: JD.com/WeChat

AI livestreams

The company said hosts who violate the rules could have their livestreaming exposure reduced or their e-commerce functions limited.

The paper cited a source as saying Tencent’s motive was to encourage more live human anchors on the platform.

The draft rules are open for comments from 7 to 13 June and Tencent is reportedly planning to take feedback from livestreamers into account.

Beijing-based consultancy Dolphin told the paper that Tencent was seeking to ensure the video platform was not overrun with thousands of inexpensive, low-quality AI hosts.

Livestreaming commerce is a huge market across the region, and AI-powered avatars are becoming a substantial part of that business, with the market for virtual avatars worth 20.52 billion yuan ($2.8bn, £2.2bn) last year and expected to more than double to 48.06bn yuan next year, according to iiMedia Research.

‘Digital humans’

The other major Chinese livestreaming platforms allow virtual avatars, but require such content to be labelled under deepfake regulations introduced by the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) last April.

Tencent itself is a major provider of what AI-powered avatars with an offering it calls “digital humans”, introduced in May of last year.

The company offers avatars in a range from 2D cartoon to 3D realistic modes, which can be created as a digital double of a real person based on three minutes of video and one hundred sentences.

Tencent says “digital humans” can be used as anchors to present video material or as an interactive interface linked to information in a database.

Matthew Broersma

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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