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Fox partners with Polygon Labs to tackle deepfake distrust

As deepfakes proliferate, their ability to mislead and sow distrust is becoming of major concern to security experts — and the general public. A recent survey from McAfee found that the vast majority of Americans (84%) are worried about how deepfakes will be used in 2024, particularly where it concerns elections and addresses given by public figures.

Several solutions to the deepfakes problem have been proposed, from crypto watermarks to metadata — none perfect. But an increasing number of news organizations are coalescing around blockchain tech as a means of verifying that content came from a reliable source.

Fox today became the latest example, announcing today that it partnered with Polygon Labs, a layer-2 blockchain focused on scaling Ethereum, to release an open source protocol for media companies to register their articles, photographs and more. Called Verify, Fox and Polygon are pitching the protocol as a means for outlets to protect their IP while letting consumers verify the authenticity of content.

“The Verify protocol establishes the origin and history of original journalism by cryptographically signing individual pieces of content on the blockchain,” Melody Hildebrandt, Fox’s CTO, told TechCrunch in an email interview. “It’s powered by a content graph, binding content to its verified publisher.”

The New York Times has explored a similar approach to news verification through its News Provenance Project, which uses blockchain to track metadata such as sources and edits for news photos. Photo and video authentication startup Truepic also notarizes content on the Bitcoin and Ethereum blockchains to establish a chain of custody.

Fox aims to deploy its tech on a larger scale than previous efforts, however.

In August, Fox launched a beta version of Verify, co-developed with Polygon, to coincide with the GOP primary debate on Fox News. The company says that now, it uses Verify to register content from Fox-owned brands such as Fox News, Fox Business and Fox Sports as well as Fox-affiliated TV stations.

According to Hildebrandt, around 80,000 pieces of news content have been signed with Verify so far.

“The protocol is fully open source and free to use by publishers and other builders,” Hildebrandt said. “We intend and look forward to other media companies and content publishers embracing the Verify protocol and integrated into a variety of publishing platforms.”

Third-party apps can be built on top of Verify, which is designed to support all media content types. But Fox has released its own tool that can be used to verify uploaded images or articles (via a URL) that match assets registered with the Verify protocol.

If a match is found, Fox’s Verify app will show the publisher information associated with the content in addition to the original headline and URL. If there isn’t a match, it can be assumed that the content was fabricated or otherwise manipulated.

Beyond authentication, Verify can be used as a way to license content to vendors for training or serving generative AI models, Hildebrandt says — a compelling use case as the fight between vendors and news publishers heats up. Using Verify, publishers can enforce controls to ensure that they’re properly compensated depending on how a vendor decides to implement their content.

“Verify is also a technical on-ramp for AI platforms to license publisher content with encoded controls via smart contracts for LLM training or real-time use cases,” Hildebrandt said. “We’re in discussion with several media companies and expect to be able to share more soon on that front.”

Or course, all of this is voluntary — the success of Verify depends on publishers, news consumers and generative AI vendors opting to adopt the platform. For various reasons — competing authentication solutions being one — they might be dissuaded from doing so. Time, I suppose, will tell.

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