Axios Seattle

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Today's newsletter is 725 words, a 2.5-minute read.

1 big thing: Making deepfake porn a crime

Illustration: Natalie Peeples/Axios

Washington state lawmakers are weighing whether to make it illegal to share deepfake pornographic images — a use of artificial intelligence that has victimized people from high school students to Taylor Swift.

Why it matters: Rapidly advancing AI technology can take a single image of someone and create fake videos or photos of them appearing to be nude or having sex. But in Washington and many other states, that's not explicitly banned.

Details: A bill advancing in Washington's Legislature with bipartisan support would create a new criminal offense called "distributing fabricated intimate images."

  • It would become a gross misdemeanor to share digitally altered photos that appear to depict an identifiable person nude, partially nude or engaged in sexual activity without that person's consent.
  • Repeat offenders — as well as those who share fake porn that appears to depict minors — could be charged with felonies.

Plus: The measure would let victims sue those who share deepfake porn.

What they're saying: "There are real harms being done, and our laws don't currently provide a remedy to respond," Russell Brown, executive director of the Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, told a panel of state legislators last month.

Flashback: When AI-generated nude photos of students circulated at Issaquah High School last year, the incident didn't result in criminal charges, local news stations reported.

Zoom out: Among the top 10 websites that host fake nudes, such images have nearly tripled since 2018, an industry analyst told the Washington Post last year.

  • So far, 10 states — both Republican- and Democratic-controlled — have passed laws banning exploitative deepfake pornography, USA Today reported last month.

Between the lines: Federal law doesn't regulate these images. But late last month, a bipartisan group of U.S. senators introduced a bill designed to hold people responsible for "digital forgery."

What's next: The Washington state proposal passed with no opposition in the state House earlier this month.

  • Its state Senate committee hearing is scheduled for tomorrow.

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2. 📉 Chart du jour: Seattle-area home vacancies

Data: Census Bureau; Note: Only includes vacant housing units that are for sale; Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: Census Bureau; Note: Only includes vacant housing units that are for sale; Chart: Axios Visuals

Just 0.5% of homes in the Seattle metro area were vacant and for sale at the end of 2023, per the latest quarterly census data.

Why it matters: The percentage of homes that are vacant is one way to gauge the tightness of a housing market.

What's happening: Seattle's vacancy rate is even tighter than the national rate, which was 0.9% in the fourth quarter (near the lowest on record).

By the numbers: As recently as the end of 2022, just over 1% of homes in the Seattle area were vacant and on the market.

  • In 2005, it was 1.6% — three times higher than the latest figure.

The big picture: Low inventory is enticing U.S. homebuilders to ramp up new construction.

  • Experts say the nation needs to build a mix of housing, and more of it, to overcome a major home shortage.

Go deeper: Why new home sales soared and existing homes plunged in 2023

3. Morning Buzz: Car thefts drop

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

📉 Local car thefts were down 21% in January compared to the same month last year, according to the Puget Sound Auto Theft Task Force. (KING 5)

🚒 Seattle's fire chief wants more authority to tear down abandoned buildings.

  • Seattle firefighters have responded to 22 fires at vacant buildings already this year, he said. (KOMO)

4. 🍩 Doughnuts to go

Some of the offerings at Half and Half Doughnut Co. Photo: Melissa Santos/Axios

Melissa here. When you suggest places to eat, I listen.

  • So when my 3-year-old woke up at 5:30am yesterday — 90 minutes earlier than usual — I decided to take him on an early-morning Valentine's Day date for doughnuts (his favorite food lately).
  • We hit up a reader recommendation, Half and Half Doughnut Co. in Capitol Hill.

Zoom in: The shop on Pike Street offers a range of deep-fried options, including creatively frosted takes on old-fashioned doughnuts.

  • We tried a pair of raised ring doughnuts, which, despite being huge and heavily frosted, didn't overwhelm me with sweetness.
  • Pranav, the reader who recommended this place, likes their small doughnut options, the mini bimbas, because "you get to try a lot of flavors while only clogging your arteries partially."
Two raised doughnuts, one with chocolate and white frosting, the other with pink frosting and sprinkles.
Breakfast of champions. Photo: Melissa Santos/Axios

Pro tip: If you don't feel like a doughnut, they have savory breakfast sandwiches and biscuits, too.

The verdict: A fine place to carb up in the morning. We'll be trying more of your suggestions soon!

Details: 516 E. Pike St.

  • 6am–2pm, Monday–Thursday; 6am–3pm FridaySunday.

👀 Melissa can't stop watching this extended cut of the Ben Affleck-Dunkin' Donuts Super Bowl ad.

🤗 Clarridge is just about ready to return to your inboxes after her international travels.

This newsletter was edited by Emma Hurt and copy edited by Egan Millard.