Could the answer to fake profiles be a simple selfie?

30th May 2019
Alex Lynn

Fake profiles are an issue encountered by almost all social media users – it may be as benign as a Facebook friend request from somebody you’ve never heard of, or as sinister as a Twitter troll that seeks to humiliate or even defame.

By Rene Hendrikse, Vice President, Managing Director EMEA, Mitek

This problem has proliferated in recent months, prompting social media platforms to take action against the issue with limited successes; Facebook removed 500 accounts for suspected Russian ties, and Instagram has taken similar steps to remove fake followers.

Nonetheless, it is clear that a more comprehensive solution is required to solve the fake profiles issue. 

This is because fake profiles are created by users for a multitude of reasons, most notably to influence political opinion through fake news and targeted commentary. However, they may also be created in in order to commit identity fraud, to scam users or to stalk and bully individuals. The list goes on.

To what effect?
Fake social media accounts are a critical problem for our society as a whole. Businesses that are breached from hackers face significant damage to reputation and monetary assets. Some organisations could even find themselves facing fines for not adhering to Know-Your-Customer (KYC) compliance requirements.

Consumers that are targeted can have life-changing consequences, such as financial problems having to repay the money they haven’t spent that they can’t prove that to their card or insurance provider. Think about all the other apps and sharing economy platforms that use social media account details for authentication or sign-in purposes, those are at risk, too.

This means it’s down to all platforms to defend themselves against fake identities to protect its users and business partners, alike.

For the wider economy, there’s a whole host of damage that fake identities and accounts could do to users on e-commerce platforms, peer-to-peer lending spaces, even primary ticketing sites and ticket reselling marketplaces.

Not only could it lead to hacks and information leaks, higher prices for limited goods purchased and resold by bots - but also to financial fraud and money laundering. Consumers and small business owners are naturally wary of the potential dangers of shopping on digital platforms, which leads to an overall business slowdown.

Trust in verification
To combat the lack of trust, as well as physical and cyber security concerns, businesses are stepping up their online security and new user onboarding to introduce digital identity verification procedures.

Benefits abide. On marketplaces, such as Airbnb or eBay, what took a user months to build their profile up and instil trust though multiple peer-to-peer reviews, can now be done overnight. Once a new user’s profile is digitally ID-verified, users are instantly more comfortable trusting a ‘stranger’ or a platform newcomer before they amass a dozen of reviews.

We could go further and imagine the future where we’re able to match digital identities to real people almost instantly. In time, this could transform live entertainment, travel and hospitality, making it safer and more convenient for users.

Imagine, going to see a high-profile football game or concert with your family and kids, without being concerned about the potential presence of hooligans or disruptors in the crowd? We’re already seeing some instances when pop stars, like Taylor Swift, turn towards facial recognition technology to scan the crowd for stalkers.

Possibilities for improving our experience and public safety in the future are endless. But it's going to take some time for technology to catch up, as we continue fixing the bare identify verification ‘basics’. 

Today, our battle ground is still defending against fake users on digital platforms, inhibiting global e-commerce and impeding the sharing economy. Alongside fake identities, ‘dormant’ or historically unverified identities represent potentially even a bigger challenge to the economy.

As new regulations kick in, legacy customers in traditional long-standing industries such as banking, have to have their identities re-verified in line with incoming regulations – before they are able to transact online – even if their identities are real.

One such example is the EU Payments Services Directive (PSD2) that took effect in January 2018. To combat payment fraud and associated losses, a key element of PSD2 is the impeding introduction of additional security authentications for online transactions over €30 coming into force on 14 September 2019.

This means that many banks will have to conduct rapid legacy customer re-authentication to ensure they have all the required information, including a digitally verified ID, on file ahead of the deadline.

Organisations tasked with the challenge to verify identities on social media and platforms using customer databases must work with identity verification firms if they are to ensure regulatory compliance. Using specialist digital ID verification technology, customers need only take a photo of an official ID document such as a passport or driver’s license, followed by a selfie to confirm their identity.

This is achieved through AI enabled software, which not only confirms the validity of the document provided, but also uses biometric facial comparison to ensure the selfie taken matches the ID document, ergo confirming the identity of the customer.

Considering the scale of the fake identity issue, online platforms – particularly those in the ecommerce and shared economy sectors – must ensure customer protection and trust. To do so, digital identity verification processes must be put into practice when onboarding new users, and the onus is on businesses to make this happen.

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