15 December 2020
December 2019: We met in the iProov office and debated our predictions for 2020. We talked about digital transformation, particularly in financial services, government, and health. We posited some thoughts. Someone questioned if these things would actually happen within the next 12 months. Nobody predicted a pandemic.
December 2020: A year of living, learning and working online has accelerated digital transformation beyond all expectations. On what was surely the 10,000th iProov Zoom call of the year, we debated our predictions for 2021 and agreed that it is going to be another big year for digital identity and biometrics:
1 – The deepfakes arms race will intensify in 2021. We can expect to see an explosion in the quality and quantity of deepfake usage in 2021. Some of it will be for light-hearted pranking – Joe Biden turning up to family Zoom calls, for example. Some will be for entertainment – the makers of South Park are using deepfakes for their weekly online satire show. But we’ll also see deepfakes being used for disinformation and fraud. Celebrities, politicians and experts will be shown saying things that they’ve never said. Armies of ‘fake people’ who look and sound real will share disinformation on an enormous scale online, making people believe that thousands of people hold a contentious opinion, when in fact none of those people even exist. What has changed is that it has become increasingly simple to create a very high quality, sophisticated deepfake. What was once a very complicated process, only really possible in Hollywood movie studios, is now something that any teenager sitting in their bedroom can execute proficiently. The arms race between misuse of convincing deepfake technology and the technology companies, governments, and businesses that are protecting society and democracy will intensify as a result.
2 – Onboarding with online biometrics will expand to new countries. Within the next 12 months, banking regulators in global territories – including Europe and the Far East – will authorize the use of automated biometrics instead of video calling for remote Know Your Customer (KYC) processes. Just as in 2019, when a well-publicised voice fraud scam duped a high-profile CEO, by the end of the year there will have been several criminal money-laundering scandals arising from the use of deepfakes in video calls. Countering this could very well mean that several countries, including the United States, also take concrete steps towards instituting government-backed digital identities – see below. This will be an important step towards enabling financial institutions and government departments to verify identity and mitigate fraud in bank onboarding and government support programs.
3 – Social networks will turn their attention to user authenticity. Goodbye, anonymous trolls. To curb abuse and rebuild trust, social media platforms will offer additional capabilities to verify their users. Like the blue checkmark on Twitter, online identities will become easily recognizable as genuine. Currently this type of confirmation is a manual process reserved for high-profile accounts in the public interest. To automate verification and extend a badge of trust to more users, social media platforms will need to deploy strong, irrefutable authentication that a user is a real human being. Biometrics offer the effortless usability and accuracy of authentication that will be needed to do this at scale. Informed choice and consent will help to allay privacy concerns and objections.
4 – Temporary changes to healthcare will become permanent. Video doctor visits, same-day prescription home deliveries and online symptom checks are just some of the emergency measures put in place in several countries to provide safe patient access to medical services during the pandemic. Laws were temporarily relaxed to allow for quick innovations that will most likely become a permanent fixture of modern healthcare. But these conveniences cannot become commonplace without putting some additional safety and privacy measures in place. One example is using remote biometric identification to protect patient privacy, verify identity and prevent abuse of services, such as prescription management.
5 – The U.S. will take concrete steps towards instituting government-backed digital identities, both private and public. One of the reasons that the U.S. is lagging in digitization is that there is no centralized, trustworthy source of online identification. The COVID pandemic has highlighted two significant issues with this: first, the dependence on physical document checks to open bank accounts or access government services, when technology can now verify identity better than humans. Second, the inability to prevent fraud when government support programs are ramped up to cope with crises. Government-backed digital identities will allow banks and other institutions to securely verify the identity of customers and citizens online, giving those individuals access to a broader range of services, while cutting back on the risk of fraud.
6 – There will be contactless border crossings on both sides of the Atlantic by 2022. Contactless travel and curb-to-gate self-service will make border crossings safer and faster. The Department of Homeland Security plans to pilot an integrated solution from iProov to enable travelers to quickly transit remote border ports using their personal devices to report their entry and exit to CBP―without requiring the direct engagement of a CBP Officer in person or online―with a secure, privacy focused mobile application. In Europe, as part of its railway innovation initiative, Eurostar is planning deployment of iProov biometric technology to authenticate tickets via an optional walk-through biometric facial verification corridor. Transportation experiences that offer contactless checks allow travelers to more easily practice health guidelines to maintain physical distance from others and minimize contact with high-touch surfaces.
7 – Biometrics will enable digital novices to connect and authenticate online. The pandemic is pushing everyone online, whether they like it or not. This should be treated as a real opportunity to provide older generations and technology newcomers with access to services that they wouldn’t otherwise have had. In 2021, this will result in three things: firstly, the password, which has long been the bane of many people’s online interactions, will be replaced by simpler authentication methods, such as biometrics. Secondly, if progress in this area continues to be made in 2021, it’s possible that worldwide as many as 100 million people over the age of 70 will possess digital IDs, with the concept of the ‘digital power of attorney’ very soon becoming a reality. Thirdly, many of the people using technology for the first time are also often the ones who are most susceptible to online manipulation. Seniors are about five times more likely to report financial loss due to tech support scams. Creating ways of safeguarding individuals online will move further up the agenda.
8 – Online dating will be less risky with biometrics. Matchmaking sites will adopt biometric authentication to make it easier to distinguish deceptive dating practices such as catfishing. More than a quarter of dating website users were duped by fake personas over the past year. With face-to-face interaction greatly diminished in the pandemic, people of all ages are going online, not just to find love but also to socialize and connect with other humans at a safe distance.