Socure SVP sees past the migraine of dealing trust to the US government
On October 12, 2021, the top story on the front page of The New York Times was about entrenched distrust of U.S. government Covid vaccines. The last story on the page was about banks fomenting doubt among their customers over government plans to gather more transaction information to find unpaid taxes.
That was also the day that executives at digital identity verifier Socure said they were getting into digital ID verification in the government sector. Reports that Matt Thompson had been hired by Socure as senior vice president of public sector products actually came out days prior to news of the unit’s formation.
There are so many traps in selling ID verification in any form to governments in the United States, especially amid today’s economic cross currents, it is fair to question such a decision.
Of course, it has the potential for profit.
Like the rest of the world, the executives certainly had been marveling at news that the White House’s $400 billion Covid disaster relief fund resulted in as much as $100 billion in fraud (and that was just one coronavirus-related fire government officials will be trying to put out years from now).
There is incredulousness in Thompson’s voice when he discusses that financial catastrophe.
“We’re funding fraud,” he says, here and abroad. The federal government’s ID verification procedures are overmatched by an online criminal underground that has its own marketplaces for tools, strategies and data.
Had the government worked to solve the digital identity verification problem before the emergency, it could have done so “for a lot, lot less” than the losses. That non-$100 billion contract would still have been a kingly sum for a vendor lucky enough to win the project.
While no one from inside the reportedly intense Socure has publicly detailed the decision to enter government markets, the horizon must have looked promising, if challenging.
Challenging because trust in federal and state government is forever finding a new depth.
But also, because fighting fraud to build trust requires the collection of – or at least access to – more personal data, which becomes a trust issue. As a rule, the more that valuable data is handled, the more likely it is to be misused.
Ask Socure competitor ID.me (which Thompson co-founded). ID.me uses biometrics, including facial recognition, in some of its identity checks.
Company executives are still smarting after getting burned on an Internal Revenue Service verification service it built. The service went live January 2022 and enables taxpayers to create an IRS account using facial recognition.
In a situation that looked and sounded like geese arguing, the IRS was erroneously accused by some of requiring people to submit to facial recognition in order to file their income taxes.
(It did not help matters that ID.me CEO Blake Hall said at about the same time that the company did not use 1:many facial recognition when, in fact, it does. Hall later admitted he was wrong.)
The IRS snafu was uncomfortable for the agency, but then the IRS is loathed. ID.me likely will ride it out. Nonetheless, it an example of how unforgiving the environment is for government ID verification.
Socure’s vision, on the other hand, is risk-based — predictive analytics using AI and machine learning to minimize manual identification review. Online verification is based on comparison of multiple, redundant data sources to assess each ID element.
Eschewing face biometrics should make Socure marginally more acceptable to state and federal legislators who feel pressure to address the perceived dangers of facial recognition generally. Face biometrics are included in the company’s DocV solution as a step-up authentication method, but the company says it can accurately verify an identity without it.
The company has composed a white paper explaining why it feels its path is superior to facial recognition.
Less than a year after entering the public sector, Socure is focusing on state governments. Contracts have been signed in California and Florida, says Thompson, former SVP of Idemia’s Civil and Digital Identity Business in North America.
In fact, he sounds encouraged about a regional focus, even though it means dealing with 50 states, not mention territories.
“I do think that identification is considered critical infrastructure” by the states. He said that trusted identity verification is the third highest priority among state CIOs.
“We’re raising the bar in terms of how they view how identity should operate,” Thompson says.
That sounds like the optimism of head lion herder feeling hopeful that the big cats are eating fewer of his employees because the lions are getting fatter and slower from eating his employees.
AI | biometrics | digital identity | fraud prevention | government services | identity verification | machine learning | Socure | U.S. Government