The place of user managed and controlled digital footprint and identity in the next online era takes shape
Concerns about fraud have been not only confirmed with each new hack, identity theft report and data breach, but also expanded to worries about fake people and content from social media and marketing analytics to online classrooms and dating apps.
Practically every system with user accounts online is filled with bots, fake or fraudulent accounts, and duplicates, often in combination. Furthermore, users who do not abide by the rules of a given platform and are kicked off for the safety of other users can typically just re-register with a new email address, VPN, or other slight change in details.
That makes trust nearly impossible, except when it is created by personally identifiable information. This creates the risk of stolen or mismanaged PII, which can lead to government intervention and fines and also contributes to the lack of trust that same PII provides over time.
Other challenges arise when marketers and their online budgets are hijacked by fake users and false data returns. By creating richer and deeper 1:1 relationships, which started with knowing a user is a real person, businesses can focus on their ‘real’ customers and create more efficient engagement programs.
This over-arching trend appears to have reached a sustained peak, and is colliding with a new possibility arising from some of the same technologies that are enabling Web3. That possibility is for an assurance that each account belongs to a person who is real and does not have another account in the same system.
By using digital footprint as a way to prove the legitimacy and uniqueness of users, a baseline of trust can be established which restores value for users, service providers, advertisers and other stakeholders.
What are the central trends as web3 comes online?
Liquid Avatar Technologies Inc.’s President and CEO David Lucatch sums up the situation in conversation with Biometric Update this way: you would never enter a room filled with strangers in disguise, much less ask a young person to do so, not knowing anything about them or even if they are real. But this is the normal state of social interactions online, from social networks to the sharing economy and gaming to education.
For businesses, the situation is just as bad.
“The internet has been broken since the start,” he states bluntly.
More transactions, more interactions, and more fraud along with them with ever-higher stakes is a dominant trend-line in the 2020s.
At the same time, the tools to address this situation are evolving, with Verifiable Credentials becoming standardized, and advanced architecture enabling the use of biometrics, and other unique identifiers to establish the user is uniqueness, without necessarily sharing their unique identity.
The metaverse is being designed to provide a spectacularly broad range of experiences, but to have any value, almost all of them will requiring trust between parties.
Web3 holds the promise of the “owner economy,” Lucatch says, but to realize that promise, platforms and their customers, from marketers on social media to owners of real or digital property, must be relieved of the current cost of fake and duplicate users.
How will those trends impact businesses?
The stakes for businesses, and therefore their need for trust, have increased right alongside those of individuals.
“You would never walk into an electronics store, pick out a large television, walk up to the cashier and say ‘I forgot all my identity, let me write it down on a piece of paper and give it to you,’” Lucatch points out. “You’d never get out the door. Yet on the internet, as long as you can fill in information that is reasonable and may be correct, no-one needs to know if you’re real or not.”
Digital footprint, he contends, establishes a baseline from which the fakes and duplicates that undermine trust can be eliminated.
Tools like Liquid Avatar’s Proof of Humanity enable this new, layered approach to identity, and businesses benefit in several ways. Control over credentials and digital footprint is returned to users, in a form that supports proof that a person is real and unique without sharing other details, and enables limited disclosure in other situations. Online organizations get assurance to the level they need, and avoid collecting the personally identifiable information that introduces liability exposure and attracts attackers.
“We believe that Proof of Humanity can provide certain assurances that business can then use to create value for themselves and the user, and potentially stop the negative issues happening,” Lucatch says. “So, we start the Proof of Humanity with a biometric facial map, a verified device, and a self-attested age with artificial intelligence confidence level of that age.”
They verifiers, where necessary and applicable, can then impose KYC if the confidence is not high enough, taking advantage of the flexibility afforded by those layers.
How people will use digital identity in web3 interactions
“This is our chance to restart the internet on the basis of ownership that identity is a basic human right and needs to be in the hands of those that own that identity,” Lucatch says.
People also need control over their identity, because additionally, “identity and personal data is a valuable asset.”
The flexibility of a digital footprint delivered through Verifiable Credentials provides a way to carry out all the same interactions people are used to online, and more, while addressing the groundswell around idea that we all need to be better protected.
The same portable digital footprint is used for each interaction, and is interoperable with whatever system the user wants to interact with because it uses global standards.
“Really at the end of the day, it’s sort of verified anonymity; it doesn’t tell everybody who you are it just says ‘I’m real,’” Lucatch explains.
Some web3 interactions will require higher levels of trust, which can be ramped up to full know your customer (KYC) checks with identity verification, using the same tools. If you want to make a large purchase or apply for a new service account, you may need to take a selfie.
“It allows us to create, manage and control our own digital footprint. I know when I’m using it, where I’m using it, and can prove who I’m using it with, because it’s all controlled by my biometrics.”
The importance of trust in digital environments continues to increase the more we do in them. Achieving that trust means addressing a problem that has dogged the internet from the beginning: The lack of flexible, portable identity and ability to prove enough to establish that trust without giving away personal information.
With the technology and the trends aligning, that dynamic is now changing for the better.