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The UK's "unwavering commitment to protect young people online" falls by the wayside

The government decision to stall age verification system for adult content sites has baffled us here at Yoti. Yoti has developed tech to help organisations who want to check age to protect people online. We are a global leader in this area, having performed over 200 million age estimates with companies across a number of sectors from social media live streaming, to dating and classified sites. We are working with the social networking app Yubo to make their young community safer, with DateID to allow people to create verified profiles and over the past years we have been working with the NSPCC to design a secure way minors can report sexually explicit content of themselves to be removed from the internet. However, one of the most prevalent dangers that young people face online today is presented by adult content. As former Culture Minister Nicky Morgan said in the same breath as announcing the death of the proposed age-verification legislation, “adult content is too easily accessed online and more needs to be done to protect children from harm”.  The technology to do so already exists – we have performed over 200 million age estimates this year for a range of companies. So what exactly is the government waiting for?   A step backwards Originally set out in the Digital Economy Act 2017, this piece of legislation looked set to make the UK a world leader in the responsible use of digital ID and age estimation to protect children online. Having led the world in the creation of a publicly-available specification for age checking, the PAS 1296, it seemed like the government were committed to extending this work through forward-thinking, digital age checking solutions. However, just weeks before its proposed implementation date, the plans were put back for a third time after it was revealed that the government had failed to notify the European Union. The legislation has now been quietly dropped altogether and may be rolled into the so-called ‘online harms’ regime, which seeks to impose a ‘duty of care’ on all websites and social media platforms. Part legislative measures, part non-legislative measures, this signifies not only a great step backwards in the protection of young people online but £2 million in wasted preparations. And that’s just the money wasted by the government, not to mention the money spent by companies preparing for the legislation.   Safety or censorship? Many privacy and free speech groups have championed the change of direction, having flagged issues with individual privacy and freedom of information. Former Culture Minister John Whittingdale went so far as to say that the legislation risked “dragging British citizens into a draconian censorship regime”.  However, what the legislation sought to do was create the same safe environment online that exists in the offline world, where you must be over 18 to legally buy adult magazines from stores and access pornographic material from licensed sex shops and cinemas. Currently, there are no restrictions for viewing online adult content. An NSPCC study found that 53% of 11-16 year-olds have seen sexually explicit content online, putting them at risk of developing unrealisitic attitudes about sex and consent, more negative attitudes towards roles in relationships and an increase in ‘risky’ sexual behaviour. 44% of boys from the study said that pornography had given them ideas about the type of sex they wanted to try.   The problem with self-regulation  A proposed ‘duty of care’ may sound worryingly like the much-heralded but never-quite-materialised calls for the self-regulation of social media, which the NSPCC states on their website have failed. More information on the ‘duty of care’ and how it would operate has been called for by many and outlined with great clarity by Dr Lorna Woods. The idea of no regulation in the case of adult content therefore seems absurd, although opponents have critiqued the legislation for being an attempt to fix a social problem with technology. Education is of course paramount to teaching young people about sexual relationships but studies show that parents fully support age verification, with 83% of parents stating that porn sites should demand users verify their age. The need for the support of companies to take responsibility for the safety of their users is critical. This legislation would have given the UK a head start in terms of solving age verification ahead of the other areas it is looking to include in the Age Appropriate Design Code and the Online Harms white paper.   Privacy by design The choice made by the government to avoid giving guidance on how businesses should navigate the proposed age-verification requirements gave rise to what some may consider non-privacy-friendly methods of proving age, such as handing over bank details, creating digital wallets or buying a “porn pass” over the counter in a corner store. However, the government is fully aware that robust and secure digital IDs and age-estimation technology now exist to enable individuals to share less data and remain anonymous. The Yoti Digital ID is built with privacy by design, with data minimisation techniques that allow the individual to only share what is necessary. When sharing data, users receive a receipt of what type of data was shared, with whom and when – visible only to them and the entity they shared with. Users can choose to hide receipts, which removes all trace of the data share from their activity feed, but the person or business will still have a record of the share. Yoti cannot see any transactions an individual undertakes and all personal information is encrypted and stored separately in a non-relational database. The only way of decrypting each piece of data and summoning them together  is through the individual’s private key, which Yoti then encrypts for further security.   ProveMyAge Yoti’s two approaches to accessing adult content are outlined in our ProveMyAge offering. They are simple and have been approved by the BBFC, audited by NCC Group. They are free to individuals and for all BBFC-regulated adult content companies. Viewers can use a Yoti Digital ID to scan a QR code on the screen, anonymously share the fact they’re over 18 and gain access to the website in a matter of seconds. Viewers can use our age estimation technology which uses the camera on a device to take a photo of their face, which is then converted into a biometric template and analysed to estimate age. Once the image is age estimated, all the data is instantly deleted. No personal information is attributed to this transaction and it is fully anonymous.   Ethical technology Yoti makes it easy for almost anyone over the age of 21 to be age estimated on an online platform or at a self-checkout without needing any pre-registration or physical ID document. To make sure we develop and use biometric technology ethically and in such a way that always prioritises the individual, we have internal governance measures, including an ethics and trust committee, we share our approach with regulators and civil society bodies in roundtable sessions and we are also advised by our Guardian Council of expert professionals in data privacy, human rights and last mile tech. We also publish a regularly updated white paper on our age estimation technology and its current accuracy levels.   Social inclusion and fraud Today many people are unable to prove their age as they do not have a government-issued ID document. This may be due to cost or accessibility and is a serious form of social exclusion, sometimes denying citizens access to things like banking, healthcare and public services. If we look at the UK, 33% of under 18s do not have driving licenses and 24% of over 18s do not have passports or driving licenses. Age estimation is an innovative and inclusive solution for this. Additionally, those that do have ID documents frequently lose or have them stolen – over 1 million driving licenses and 400,000 passports each year in the UK alone. This puts their owners at increased risk of identity theft and fraud. Unsurprisingly, this is mainly in the younger demographic, who, unsurprisingly, are the ones who are most regularly challenged for age. Widespread verbal, physical and racial abuse towards retail staff at the point of checking age was highlighted in the research by Under Age Sales. We await the publication of the Home Office Consultation on Abuse to Retail Staff to see if that corroborates the findings from 2017 by Under Age Sales. Age estimation and verification technologies could be a great solution to this problem by relieving responsibility from staff and protect their safety.   The way forward With proactive changes in regulation, the government could drive a healthy ecosystem of digital providers that enable individuals to securely prove their identity and age in a privacy-friendly way. Age estimation stands to gain widespread adoption as the most efficient, inclusive and frictionless way of proving age across the globe. We are watching to see if their “unwavering” commitment to “do more to protect children from adult content online” is going to fall by the wayside for a fourth time or finally come good.

8 min read

More women in tech!

A few weeks ago, we were invited to an event for Ada Lovelace Day at the Francis Crick Institute.  The line up was brimming with inspiring female role models and speakers from companies like Made.com, Snapchat and Microsoft. But much more importantly, the room was packed with 200 motivated girls aged 16-18, looking for a springboard into a career in tech. This brilliant event was set up by Workfinder, a startup seeking to revolutionise work experience for young people, regardless of their background, by connecting them with exciting companies through their app. They put us in contact with Anisa and Farzana, two girls from local schools who we had the pleasure of spending a week with here at Yoti HQ. They gave us some brilliant insights into the minds of a teenager and did some great work publicising Yoti to a young audience. Plus, they even managed to do some coding! But don’t hear it from us. Here, in their own words, are their reflections on their week of work experience at Yoti. Monday  Anisa This was my first day at the company and it did take me some time to find the place. But once you know where it is you won’t be lost. I remember that there is a small Sainsbury’s opposite the building! As soon as I got in  I was wholeheartedly welcomed by the staff and then escorted to the floor I was going to be working in. My ID card was made in front of my eyes and it was so cool to witness!  I was then equipped with a laptop to work with (I was not expecting it to be a MacBook) I was then instructed to complete all my login details which didn’t take too long. After that, I was handed over my first task which was a privacy task. So, I was asked to make a note of what could be improved in the Yoti privacy information and for this I had to be very critical as it was going to benefit the company.  Farzana  After lunch, we then met Hannah who set out an HR task for us to create a presentation about involving more women within STEM and the significance of it. As a person who has worked around this area and is very interested in this area this task became very fun and interesting for me. After finishing our presentation ideas, we played table tennis in the “Park” area and then we have met our primary host, Leanne.  Tuesday  Farzana  It was easy for me to find the place as I remembered all the shops near the office so I arrived before my start time.  My task for the days were to create a poster for an event, create a powerpoint for the STEM campaign and design a job description for any role of my choice. I was able to complete all my tasks within the given time and I thoroughly enjoyed the poster task as I learnt many new skills and was able to put my creativity into action.  Wednesday Farzana I was set a market research task by two members of the marketing team. The task involved me coming up with the ideas of how to publicise Yoti to a younger audience. I came up with a video and poster which will be executed via social media and public billboards.  After I completed my powerpoint I had lunch with some of the team members which was lovely! We conversed about schools, future, cultures and so much more. Once lunch was over I continued with my task as I was going to display my ideas.  Then I presented my ideas in my first meeting and was given good feedback and suggestions on how I should physically showcase my ideas. I then created an advert in the form of a poster within 30 minutes which was quite challenging but taught me how to manage my time.  My second meeting was in a large meeting room with many members of staff and it was my first time doing such a thing!  My presentation went really well and I explained how Yoti can be advertised to attract a younger audience.  Thursday Anisa The task I was set was based around research. I was asked to look for different companies which use Yoti and note down the way in which they advertise it. This was to help the company aware of the different styles that Yoti is presented in so they can ensure that all key points are featured and explained well.  I then began working on a powerpoint to portray my findings. I presented my ideas to one of the product design members who explained the process of creating a new product, which was very interesting! Friday Anisa We were introduced to Ed who set a Coder Dojo task for us [a coding workshop for 7-17 year olds held at Yoti once a month]. It was to use the website Python which contains different modules and create codes which generates something in a program for example drawing a specific shape. It is quite interesting how these codes can make the slightest changes for the program and what each function represents in the program. Not only that, it was actually really fun!  Farzana  From this experience I was able to gain so many new skills as well as adopt a new perspective. I was able to understand the different types of tasks employees at a tech company are assigned with, as well as gain an insight into how new products are formed.  We would like to say a huge thanks to Anisa and Farzana for choosing to spend your week of work experience with us. We learned lots from you guys and we hope you learned a thing or two from us too.

5 min read
Hot air balloons in the sky

Adventures in social purpose

It’s been exactly 18 months since I joined Yoti, initially as Head of Social Impact but more recently under a revised title of Head of Social Purpose. We felt the word ‘impact’ was too focused on the end result, and not enough on the process, the DNA and the ethos of what we were trying to do. While we do, of course, want our efforts to have a positive impact, we believe that how you go about creating that impact is equally as important – perhaps more important – as the impact itself.  Most of my career has been spent in the global conservation and development sectors, a place where commitment to doing good is more often than not obvious and plain for all to see. Things are a little different in the corporate world. With the exception of a few Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activities, my exposure to companies genuinely trying to ‘do well by doing good’ has been rather limited – until I started work at Yoti. Bringing all of our ‘doing good’ together into a coherent and comprehensive Social Purpose Programme has been a fascinating exercise for me, and for the company. And it would appear we’re on the right track with our recent nomination in the Best in Brand Purpose category in The Drum Social Purpose Awards.  We thought it might be helpful to share a little of what we’ve learnt along the way.   Look for the badge of honour We’ve all heard of greenwashing – the covering up of environmental harm caused by a company’s activities by producing a glossy brochure that pushes the few good things the company might do. Anyone can do good PR or spin a story, but not everyone can become a B Corp. B Corps are the badge of honour for companies doing good. Heavily audited, they are committed to ‘doing well by doing good’. I’ve heard this from many of my colleagues at Yoti, and it’s also true in my case – Yoti’s B Corp status was a big factor in my decision to join.    Find a company whose products you believe in It’s hard to build a social purpose programme around a company whose products don’t improve the human condition in some way or another, or worse, that have the potential to cause actual social or environmental harm. First and foremost, join a company that has products with the potential to do the kind of good you believe in. For me, this was a no-brainer at Yoti. Keeping people safe online is a big deal.    CSR doesn’t equate to purpose Companies can do great work through their CSR programmes, and many do. The trouble is by sectioning off the ‘good things we do’ into a separate department, or corner of the office, this tends to silo all the positive from the day-to-day drudge of the business. People want to work for companies that are good through and through, where everyone contributes – not companies that are around about average with a few people running a small CSR programme.    Senior management buy-in is key I’ve been fortunate at Yoti to have the full buy-in of the CEO, CFO and entire senior management team. Not only do social purpose programmes cost money, from time to time they can divert resources away from other commercial activities that are crucial to the business. Building out a quality, meaningful social purpose programme without senior management buy-in is going to be close to impossible, not to mention the signal that gives to staff further down that purpose isn’t something the company wants, or takes seriously. Purpose has to matter to everyone, from the top to the bottom.    Engage in a little silo busting Yoti is a digital identity company and our product offerings are a little niche (we’re obviously working hard to change that). Rather than restricting our outreach to the digital identity sector, we’ve been increasingly talking to the humanitarian sector (where our expertise has value) and various anthropology-focused networks (our social purpose work is very human-focused). We’re now increasingly sharing our experiences with others who work in social purpose. Think about the work you’re doing, and think about how it might cross over into other sectors. Nobody wants to talk in an echo chamber.    Be evidence-based Try to develop a strategy that is evidence-based. Carry out research where appropriate, and be open to learning if you don’t have the answers. At Yoti a relatively small amount of money funded a piece of UK-based research last summer which seriously challenged our social impact ambitions. This lead us to pivot to a more international strategy which you see today.   Embrace your ‘known unknowns’ Hold an internal workshop to gain a better understanding of how your colleagues see social impact and purpose – how it might be defined, and how it might be achieved and measured. Yes, you’ll almost certainly be learning on your feet so be open and transparent about the process – consider pulling everything together into an Impact Report of some kind. Be open and honest the whole time – not just with the end results but with the process. People will respect you for it.    Define the undefined We recently sent out a short two-minute survey to Yoti staff, and one of the questions challenged them to define our social purpose in one sentence (Disney’s, for example, is “to use our imaginations to bring happiness to millions”). The responses were as fascinating as they were wide-ranging. This matters if you’re looking for a single, coherent message about why your company exists. Before you do too much, define what you mean by social purpose – and get everyone behind it.   Embrace the wider sector At Yoti we don’t just have eyes on our own products and services. We believe that a healthy digital identity sector is in the interests of everyone. Because of this, a large part of our Social Purpose Strategy seeks to support the development of healthy debate around digital identity, and the democratisation of the technology behind it. We have invested time, money and resources into an exciting Fellowship Programme and the development of a Toolkit. Whatever the objectives of your social purpose efforts, don’t forget to look beyond your own four walls.    Build networks. Buy books One of the most exciting things about starting something new is that it presents the best possible opportunity to learn. Reach out to other Heads of Social Purpose in other industries, and other countries. Ask them for advice. Ask them about their favourite social purpose books. Search for impact reports online to figure out how other companies define, measure and communicate why they exist. A few books I’m already beginning to find useful include:   Roy Spence and Haley Rushing – It’s Not What You Sell, It’s What You Stand For: Why Every Extraordinary Business is Driven by Purpose David Hieatt – Do Purpose: Why Brands With a Purpose Do Better and Matter More Markus Kramer – The Guiding Purpose Strategy: A Navigational Code for Brand Growth Aaron Hurst – The Purpose Economy: How Your Desire for Impact, Personal Growth and Community Is Changing the World John Mackey – Conscious Capitalism   Have I missed anything? If you head up social purpose within your own organisation I’d love to hear from you and swap notes. Or if you’re interested in social purpose more broadly, or know of a good book I should read, please do get in touch. It would be great to hear from you. After all, when it comes to doing good, we’re all in this together. 

7 min read

The Digital Identity Toolkit: helping people make sense of digital identity

Today we are excited to announce the launch of our Digital Identity Toolkit. As part of our wider Social Purpose strategy, it is aimed at the general public, entrepreneurs, software developers, humanitarian organisations, academics and journalists, we seek to demystify digital identities and – where appropriate – help promote their adoption and use in pursuit of humanitarian solutions around the world.    Digital Identity Toolkit The easy-to-use Toolkit aims to provide everything you need to know about digital identity. To make it as accessible as possible, we’ve broken it down into eight separate sections so you can dive straight into any area that interests you the most. Each section will be launched individually over the next few months so please note that not all of them will be available at once.    1. The Introduction Provides a summary of the Toolkit’s content, and details of intended audience and learning objectives.   2. Identity Basics Explores what identity is, what it is used for, the different types of traditional (non-digital) identification, why it matters and some of the consequences of living without identification. It also provides a brief history of identification and explores the shift from paper-based to online/digital identities.   3. Digital Identity Explained looks at how to create a digital identity and what it can be used for. We dive into digital trends and developments, provide advice on how you can establish and manage your digital identity, and look at the different types of digital providers.   4. Case Studies Gives examples of how governments, NGOs and the private sector around the world use digital identities. This section is categorised by sector to give you a sense of the vastly different uses of digital identity: from supporting refugees’ access to critical services and making it easier to travel and collaborate across borders through to enabling access to a wide range of government and financial services.   5. Digital Identity Providers Gives examples of the different types of verified digital identity providers, describes their solutions, how they’re used, who they target, their unique selling points, their main uses and what they’re best used for.   6. Implementation Looks at how you might integrate the solutions outlined in the previous section into your own products or services.   7. Data Privacy and Security Examines key privacy and security points that you need to factor in as you plan, develop and build a digital identity system. It has a detailed checklist of questions to help you protect your users’ privacy and security at every stage.   8. Reports and Further Reading Is a directory of reports on digital identity for those who wish to delve further into this exciting area of work.   Download, read and share The toolkit is available here to download. We hope it is useful for as many people as possible and we encourage you to read, review and share with whoever may be interested.  Given that digital identity is a rapidly evolving sector, this is something of a living resource. If you spot anything amiss, or you have suggestions that might help us improve things, we’d love to hear from you.   Photo credits: Hayley Capp/CARE UK

3 min read
award for global ICT excellence

Yoti wins the Merit Award for Digital Innovation at the 2019 Global ICT Excellence Awards

We’re really pleased to announce that we have won the Merit Award for Digital Innovation at the 2019 Global ICT Excellence Awards! These prestigious awards are held by the World Information Technology and Services Alliance (WITSA), a leading consortium of ICT industry association members from 83 countries around the world. The aim of these global awards is to honour organisations that have demonstrated exceptional achievement using ICT to benefit societies, governments, individuals, organisations and the private sector. And we must say, it is truly an honour to have made the podium. The award ceremony was held in conjunction with the World Congress on IT in Yerevan, Armenia (WCIT 2019) which took place from October 6 to 9 and included sessions on topics ranging from artificial intelligence, virtual reality, smart cities to cybersecurity, climate change, and more.  We’ve been recognised for our efforts in using smartphones and biometric technology to transform paper identity documents, such as passports and driving licences, into a free, modern digital ID. We have created a simple, fast and secure way to prove and protect your identity online and in person, which empowers individuals to understand the value of their personal data. This award comes at a really exciting time for Yoti as we see our Age Check solution adopted in over 9,000 convenience stores in the UK, allowing you to purchase age-restricted goods, such as cigarettes or energy drinks, with your phone. This currently excludes alcohol, due to a piece of legislation passed in 2014, which forces retailers to ask for an ID with a hologram or UV feature if the person “appears” under 18. Up until now, that has referred to a physical ID but we’ve added a hologram to the Yoti app – so we’re heading in the right direction! We’re also trialling our biometric technology with Heathrow for passportless flying and have partnered with NCR to trial our age estimation technology at self-checkouts. We’ve also positioned our age verification tech as a leading solution to the UK Digital Economy Act, which has stated plans to restrict access to online adult content to over 18s . With so many aspects of our lives that could be drastically revolutionised with our identity verification technologies, we are very excited about the future of Yoti.

2 min read
Yoti partners with LedgerState

LedgerState and Yoti transform how governments can handle personal data

We’ve integrated our technology with LedgerState’s blockchain technology to create a new digital identity solution. It was showcased at the Concordia Summit during the UN Assembly in New York, an event which aims to advance critical global discussions and transform conversations into action, shared value approaches and social impact objectives. It was a continuation of the partnership between us and LedgerState, showcased at the World Economic Forum last year.     What was showcased?  LedgerState showcased Yoti’s identity and document verification solution, Doc Scan ‘Powered by Yoti’, combined with LedgerState’s blockchain framework. The two technologies have great potential for enabling governments to safeguard citizen data using less resource and without data centres.   How does it work? Yoti digital identities can be written to a private ledger using evolution of blockchain technology called Hashgraph. Hashgraph uses an asynchronous process, meaning it is not reliant on the proof of work systems required by a synchronous solution like public blockchain solutions. This speeds up the process and makes it more suitable for identity and payment platforms and holds significant potential for the Global South.  The proof of concept showed how individuals can verify themselves to a government database and then have additional attributes attached to their identity by an approved official. This could be sensitive information like a tax code or a health insurance number. Those details are then written to a secure, private distributed ledger that can only be accessed by approved officials. This gives governments (and indeed other organisations) the ability to take advantage of the benefits of blockchain technology and its immutable records without having to compromise speed, cost effectiveness and efficiency.   The result Our partnership with LedgerState has the potential to bring about better protection of personal data, improved privacy and more resilient systems for citizens and governments. The decentralised nature of blockchain infrastructure removes risk of data being stored in one place, meaning there’s no central point for hackers to access information.   The power of Yoti APIs Our APIs bring new, secure ways for organisations to connect with individuals. Our own social purpose team strives to keep people safe online and assist humanitarian organisations with identity needs in the developing world. This move from LedgerState has the potential to help a broad range of governments including those in the developing world. Founder of LedgerState Nino Vang Vojvodic said, “Now there are finally tools and systems available for governments to grant a higher level of Sovereignty to their citizens. Early implementers will gain significant advantage when it comes to attracting the best talent and people to their citizenship or residency.”

3 min read

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