Identity in a hyper-connected world
For billions of people around the world, social media platforms have become an essential part of daily life. From keeping up with the latest news to messaging friends, services like Facebook and Twitter have rapidly grown to be some of the most visited websites in the world.
Just as the number of users has increased, so has the number of cyber criminals and bad actors who are utilizing these platforms to carry out financial fraud, troll users and send threats. One of the initial selling points of social media platforms was the level of anonymity they offered to users, who do not have to prove their identity to access these services.
In the early days of social media, there were examples of this anonymity and privacy being used to help spread information freely without censorship, as we saw in Egypt during the Arab Spring. However, this privacy has come to be abused by many users to target and troll others, emboldened by not having to prove their identity. Impersonation and identity fraud are also possible due to there being no secure identity verification solution on these platforms.
The risk of fraud
Social media users are at a specific risk of dealing with identity theft, with one study finding that active social users are 30% more likely to be impacted by identity theft compared to those using other digital platforms. Major banks in the UK have also recently raised concerns around the level of responsibility that Big Tech firms have taken around their role in combating online fraud.
According to reporting in The Telegraph, 77% of scams happen on tech platforms, including social media sites. More than half a billion pounds was lost to authorized push payment fraud, where criminals trick uses into making a payment, last year. TSB, Barclays, Santander, and Lloyds have called on tech giants to pay into a fund that will be used to reimburse fraud victims.
While there are clear benefits to requiring social media users to prove their real identities online, this approach could also have many negative impacts, too. Some users may not feel comfortable using legal ID to access these platforms and the social media sites will lose customers.
An identity balancing act
If criminals are able to break into a social media account, they are able to inflict a great deal of damage to their victim, with a hacker being able to trick friends over private messages to send them money in some cases or damage the reputation of the victim.
As the status quo around identity verification on social media platforms is contributing to growing fraud and trolling, many campaigns and even social media firms themselves, are working on ways to increase security and safeguard users. Often sensitive personal information is being shared by users themselves on social media, such as their date of birth, high school name or mothers maiden name, leaving conventional identity solutions based on easy to hack details needing to be enhanced.
Written by Finbarr Toesland, Editorial Contributor, VC Innovations
The conversation continues at the Future Identity Festival 2022, taking place November 14th – 15th at The Brewery, London.