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Rethinking digital identity infrastructure: Persona CEO Rick Song on the path to a more human internet


digital identity KYC security

Digitization raises new concerns regarding digital identity and the nature of the internet as we know it. Thanks in part to the pandemic, rapid innovation is pushing previously offline transactions into the digital realm. However, while these milestones are meant to ease life and increase health and safety, they also drastically change the way we handle identity and privacy. This necessitates the rethinking of these concepts to ensure a safe digital experience sans unnecessary friction in the authentication process.

Persona, a startup based in San Francisco, decided to step up to the challenge and re-imagine digital identity and personal data management. CEO Rick Song tells Biometric Update in an interview that the company envisions a more human internet through robust, privacy-centric, and individualized user experiences.

Song brings years of experience leading digital identity and information management products at Square. Realizing the different use-cases for each customer, Persona builds on his past insights to meet the evolving identity infrastructure needs of various clients such as Postmates, Brex, Sonder, and Fat Lama. Its platform enables a variety of customers with different use-cases to have access to secure and flexible identity infrastructure that can be configured to meet the needs of businesses of any size.

Rather than relying on only one authentication modality, Persona offers a flexible and customizable identity verification workflow to its clients. This allows them to choose which method best suits their needs.

“Our core belief around the identity space is that there won’t be a silver bullet. Biometric isn’t perfect, verifying government ID isn’t perfect, or consolidated risk scores, all of which have a lot of power in them. Whether you’re age-verifying people for alcohol purchases or if you’re trying to approve someone for a loan, the core use-cases are fundamentally different,” Song adds.

Song does not believe that anonymity will give way to the growing personal information landscape on the internet. On the contrary, he believes that anonymity is here to stay as it is foundational to digital services. Yet, new types of transactions are entering the digital realm in the form of previously offline services such as opening bank accounts and obtaining prescription drugs. For these businesses, Song says, digital ID remains a pillar. Thus, when Persona entered the space, it focused on tailoring individual user authentication services to these differing use-cases.

Holistic privacy and security

Aside from the user experience, another key dimension of Persona’s platform is privacy. The company focuses on alleviating user’s fears of looming privacy threats by signal consolidation. Thus, rather than relying on one authentication method or another, Persona provides a holistic approach that uses signals from different modalities such as device location and information databases.

Song believes that Persona’s holistic digital identity infrastructure will be an effective safeguard against fraud technologies such as deepfakes. “AI is evolving at an unbelievable pace and I think that the future of this will no longer be a battle for finding the silver bullet that works [against deepfakes]. I think that the space will move away from singular-based approaches towards dynamic types of approaches. This would mean using many different signals from devices, networks, and even behavioral signals, all of which have been used for a very long time in the authentication and authorization space.” He adds, “This will hopefully also stop fraudsters in their tracks, as there are too many variables to think about, spoof, and understand, with many of them being inaccessible to them.”

Data privacy regulations and the industry

Regarding emerging data privacy regulations, Song believes that they will ultimately dictate how and where a company operates and what data it can view. He adds, “Our belief in this space is that fewer organizations will be seeing this information themselves and that they will instead allow other infrastructures like Persona to support all of their operations.” Song notes that such regulations require infrastructure changes to ensure compliance. Without Persona’s services, this burden would normally fall onto a client and by extension onto its international outlets.

“Changing regulations are among the number one concerns for our customers. Our goal is to enable our customers to comply from day one. For many of our clients, we manage the identity data on their behalf. If one of their customers needs to redact any of their information they completely have the ability to do so,” Song adds, “We make it much easier to decide how much information these companies have access to. But beyond that, especially with regards to data sovereignty laws coming into play, one key piece in our infrastructure is enabling our customers to store data in geo-relevant locations.”

Similarly, Data Subject Access Requests (DSAR) can present an immense burden on companies trying to track past data. Song explains how his company can assist clients in DSAR compliance. “Persona tries to centralize this data within a singular infrastructure and also centralize a lot of the decision making within. Our goal is to provide all the identity infrastructure an organization needs. That way, they don’t have to build out their services and replicate this data in public places. With all this, if an organization has a DSAR, they know where all of this data is, and beyond that, if the request escalates to a redaction request it is incredibly easy to perform the redaction with one click of a button.”

Persona launched a ‘starter’ plan to make its digital identity verification plan available to businesses of any size in late-2020.

Post-pandemic industry outlook

Persona foresees a steady long-term shift towards remote operations spurred by the COVID pandemic. Song reports, “Among the global trends, we see that a lot of these innovations that occurred during the pandemic will likely be here to stay. We’ve seen so many organizations become remote-first type organizations, and with that increasing the need for digital identity as part of their overall infrastructure.”

Persona recently launched its digital identity infrastructure platform on ProductHunt, where it is available free-of-charge.

This post was updated at 6:52pm Eastern on February 22, 2021 to clarify the name of the site Persona’s new platform is available from.

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