Developing our anonymous age estimation technology

Having spent the last six years building a digital identity platform, we’ve made some impressive advancements in the age checking space.

Our free app is a powerful tool that lets anyone convert their government-issued ID document into an encrypted, digital ID. Once verified, users can share age details, such as ‘Over 18’ or ‘Under 18’, without revealing their entire date of birth.

 

Age checks without an ID document

After delivering age verification in this way for a few years, it struck us that in the UK 33% of under 18s and 24% of over 18s do not have photo ID documents – many in lower income households where people do not travel abroad or drive a car. 

Across the world there are over 1 billion people with no government-issued or other official photo ID. One of the UN Sustainable Development Goals is to ‘provide legal identity to all’. 

And  Yoti, in turn, also has a core business principle to ‘make Yoti available to anyone’.

 

Anonymous age estimation 

So in 2017, our research and development (R&D) team started looking into using machine learning to build a system that could recognise the age of a face. Using neural networks, we discovered we could teach a machine with just an image, gender and a year of birth. 

From the beginning, we made a commitment to transparency, bias minimisation and ethical usage, underlined by our signing of the Safe Face Pledge.

To minimise bias, we are fortunate to benefit from  the diverse global Yoti community members that add ID documents. We publish the results, across skin tones, ages and genders in our regularly-updated white paper.

We recognise that some Yoti users do not wish to take part in this research and an opt-out route is clearly provided within the app.

We’ve hosted roundtable sessions to get input from civil society and also invited the Centre for Democracy and Technology to do a deep dive into the technology. 

We also worked with Dr Allison Gardner, an IEEE expert, to do an Algorithmic Bias review, to ensure we were developing the algorithm aiming to minimise bias and be transparent about the levels of accuracy and bias.

 

Accuracy rates

Over the last two years, we’ve trained the system with an image, gender and year of birth. It is now able to judge age within a couple of years. For 16-25 year olds, it can usually estimate the age within 1-2 years. In contrast, humans guess age within about 4-8 years of accuracy

These are our latest October 2020 algorithm results, which show the mean absolute error (MAE) for different genders and skin tones, across age bands of interest. The weighted columns give equal weight to each of the three skin tone groups and equal weight to gender.

Graph of accuracy rates from October 2020 Age Scan white paper.

Protecting people online

We have now undertaken over 300 million age estimates. 

The tool makes life easier for people who want to limit how much personal information they share online. It is fully anonymous and there is no way of linking a person’s face with an identity. All images are instantly deleted and an estimated age is delivered in a matter of seconds.

The system also makes it easier for businesses to safeguard users and ask for less data. With the growing popularity of social media and live streaming platforms, safeguarding children is becoming a number one safety priority and this is a seamless tool that allows companies to do that.

Yubo and GoBubble are just two of many partners that are keeping their online communities safe with this tool. With huge user bases spread across the world, our scalable system allows such companies to review many millions of users and deter people lying about their age. It also allows for companies to obtain parental consent which is given by an adult through estimated age.

What’s more, the tool can be used for online and offline retail settings, for privacy-preserving adult content age verification, or for gambling or dating site age checks. 

We were asked to take part in a BBC documentary #NudesForSale, where they used it to check how many underage users were using a platform for over 18s. We’ve also made the tool available to help ascertain the age of victims and perpetrators in child sexual abuse material. As part of the Yoti principles, this child protection tool is made available for free for eligible non profits.

 

Further development

From Q4 2020, to support companies looking to comply with the Age Appropriate Design Code and help improve accuracy with young people, we’ll be working with several safeguarding bodies to consider widening the research with the aim of:

  1. Extending the age range to also include younger people aged between 7-12.
  2. Further improving the accuracy by using month as well as year-of-birth. This will be tested over the coming months.

In the upcoming white papers, we will explain how this work progresses. 

If you want to ask any further questions about our age estimation or our other R&D work, please email privacy@yoti.com.

Virgin Atlantic trials pre-flight Covid-19 testing for crew using FRANKD with Yoti

We’re excited to share the news that Virgin Atlantic is the first UK airline to introduce Covid-19 pre-flight testing for its cabin crew and pilots. Britain’s Global Five Star Airline has begun trialing our FRANKD with Yoti Covid-19 testing solution on flights to Shanghai and Hong Kong, with the introduction of Barbados and additional flights planned later in the month. The aim is a wider roll out to test every operating crew at least once per month. 

 

Rapid testing using FRANKD with Yoti

This move follows Heathrow Airport trials in August using FRANKD, which is a gold standard rapid Point of Care Covid-19 RT-LAMP test that brings 100% specificity and 97% sensitivity. 

FRANKD’s integration with Yoti’s platform ensures a fast, secure and paperless system. People scan a unique QR code on their FRANKD test bag to add their identity to the test. After a testing swab is taken, results are processed and delivered straight to the individuals’ Yoti app within 30 minutes. From here, it’s securely encrypted and stored in a convenient place on their phone, easily shared online and in person with a tap of a button.

Virgin Atlantic drive innovation in Covid-19 testing

Corneel Koster, Chief Customer and Operating Officer, Virgin Atlantic commented: “The introduction of pre-flight Covid-19 testing for our crew and pilots ensures we remain at the forefront of the aviation industry’s safe return to the skies. As testing technology and Covid-19 requirements around the world develop, we want to utilise technology that is relevant, accurate and available to keep our teams and customers healthy and safe. While the Covid-19 testing landscape evolves, we continue to be in discussions with multiple providers offering different technologies to guarantee the best solution possible, while absolutely ensuring that we do not compete with the NHS for resources.

“This trial is a first step in our phased plan for testing all of our teams in the air and on the ground, and when feasible our customers, in order to instil confidence in flying. However, we continue to call for the introduction of a wider coordinated passenger testing regime. We need urgent action from UK Government to introduce testing so that travel restrictions can be relaxed in confidence as soon as possible, while protecting public health. As long as the UK’s 14 day quarantine is in place, demand for travel will not return and the UK’s economic recovery cannot take off.” 

“Although our aim is to create a pre-departure testing regime through government and industry trials, the Government’s own evidence supports a test after five days, which should be introduced immediately. Virgin Atlantic and its industry partners, such as Heathrow and Manchester airports, and various testing providers, are ready to work with the Government to make this happen.”

 

Yoti is a global identity solution that supports seamless travel experiences

Digital anti-fraud measures are built into our reusable ID app, making it a modern solution that combats fakes and the risk of fraud with a lost traditional ID document. Yoti is available in 6 languages, accepts passports and photo IDs from over 195 countries, making it a global identity solution. 

Yoti CEO Robin Tombs said, “I’m proud to see the team’s hard work on FRANKD with Yoti help Virgin Atlantic to protect their crew and customers in creating safer flying spaces. The accuracy and speed of FRANKD, backed by Yoti technology, makes the process secure, simple and protects people’s privacy. This combination is a game-changer for rapid testing. It can be applied to many walks of life and helps business and society protect the vulnerable while enabling others to protect the economy.”

Aldershot Town FC becomes the first UK National League football club to adopt digital IDs for player management

As manager Danny Searle and his Aldershot Town FC players get ready for the up and coming 20-21 season in the English National League – they will be the first football team to get their player ID on their phone. 

The move is intended to boost security around key locations and digitally transform outdated processes, waving goodbye to paper around the pitch and training ground. The players will use a simple scan using their phone to share their verified digital identity from Yoti while protecting their privacy.

Aldershot Town FC Chairman, Shahid Azeem, said “We’re focused on building a sustainable future for Aldershot Town FC, investing on and off the pitch to make it a great place for players, fans and our staff to enjoy the game and everything the club brings to the local community. We’re exploring how the latest identity technology from Yoti can streamline existing paper-based processes to make life easier, speed up and reduce admin as well as boost security. With so many of the day-to-day processes in football unchanged in decades, the potential for digital identities in football is limitless.”

Shahid_Azeem_Aldershot_Chairman

Shahid Azeem, Chairman of Aldershot Town FC

With the free Yoti app, players create a digital ID that helps them prove who they are while protecting their privacy. It is built with data minimisation at the core and allows people to share less data. Yoti puts individuals in control to show only the details they need, to the businesses and people they trust. These details can range from their personal information such as name and DOB, through to work credentials, passes, Covid-19 health test results and more.

Yoti app homescreen with ID card

Yoti CEO Robin Tombs said “We love sport at Yoti, so I’m delighted to see Aldershot Town FC begin to explore the power of digital identities in transforming outdated processes around the training pitch and football ground. Whether it’s the club management, staff, players or fans, digital identities have the power to make everyday processes faster, simpler and safer.I look forward to seeing where this partnership goes.” 

It’s hoped that Yoti can transform many areas for football clubs like Aldershot Town FC, with the potential for players and staff to sign contracts and more. Fans could also have their season ticket attached to their ID on their phone, giving them one less thing to remember on match days. 

Finally, as sports fans and officials hope to return to some kind of normality with spectators in stadiums during the coronavirus pandemic; FRANKD with Yoti is a fast and accurate Covid-19 testing solution that takes under 30 minutes to deliver on site and can sees results automatically shared straight to the individuals mobile phone. This could be a powerful tool in the safe return to competitive sport as we know and love it.

Canada pioneers digital ID for all with new framework

This week, the Digital ID and Authentication Council of Canada (DIACC) announced the launch of a new framework for digital ID and authentication industry standards. The Pan Canadian Trust Framework (PCTF) will define how digital ID will roll out across Canada and will be alpha tested by DIACC members.

As a long-standing member of DIACC, we’re incredibly excited to see the launch of this framework that we’ve contributed to with knowledge gleaned from our long-standing experience in the digital identity space. The PCTF itself is a huge collaborative achievement and has received over 3,400 public comments provided by public and private stakeholders over four years.

Our Commercial Lead for Canada, Leigh Day, co-chairs their Innovation Expert Committee and also sits on their Outreach Expert Committee.

 

The time for digital ID is now 

The framework has been fast-tracked in the wake of the coronavirus crisis with the aim of rolling out digital ID to all levels of society as a key enabler for the Canadian economy. 

As outlined by Dave Nikolejsin, Board Chair at DIACC, “Canadians have had to deal with identity theft and fraud, high anxiety in accessing services that they were in dire need of while facing social distancing measures, and attempting to go about their lives as normally as possible. Digital ID minimizes all of those pain points, and elevates the livelihoods of Canadians everywhere.”

Image: Progressing the Pan Canadian Trust Framework (PCTF) infographic from DIACC website.

Our response to the pandemic

At Yoti, we’ve seen the appetite for digital identity solutions go from a nice-to-have to a necessity during the coronavirus crisis. With a global digital identity platform already developed over many years, we’ve been able to react quickly and apply our technology to help ease pressures.

At the beginning of the pandemic, we fast-tracked digital ID cards for the NHS to help them remotely equip their staff with secure identification that couldn’t be lost, stolen or mis-asserted. 

We extended these secure ID cards through our COVID pledge to charities and volunteer groups.The coronavirus crisis saw a drastic increase in fraud and doorstep scams at a time where issuing volunteers with physical ID cards was greatly complicated. Volunteer Edinburgh, Age UK and Tipperary Volunteer Centre are just a few of the organisations we’ve helped with free digital ID cards, and we’ve also gifted our identity verification technology to safeguard both the DoIT and the Co-op community platform.

 

Covid-19 testing in 30 minutes

We’re currently collaborating with biotech company GeneMe who have developed a COVID-19 test that can be analysed in 30 minutes with no need for a lab. Together, we’ve developed FRANKD with Yoti, a breakthrough system whereby people have their secure test result linked to their digital identity and issued to their phone via the Yoti app.

We’re currently in trials with Heathrow airport and believe our solution could be fundamental to protecting citizens whilst getting the economy back on track.

 

Canada leads the way for digital ID

We’re really excited by the launch of the PCTF and we look forward to hearing results from the alpha testing in the coming months. For further information on our involvement with Digital Identity in Canada, or DIACC, please get in touch at business-canada@yoti.com.

Celebrating International Identity Day 2020

Today marks International Identity Day. It falls on September 16th in recognition of Sustainable Development Goal 16.9 , which commits the international community to providing a means of identity to all by 2030. As we celebrate today, it’s worth reminding ourselves what it means to not be able to prove who you are. 

In the developed world, we’re used to providing identification even for routine transactions such as opening a mobile phone account at a local store. We can readily produce a combination of photo ID, proof of bank details and a utility bill to confirm our address. We take it for granted that we can prove who we are when we need to, but that’s not the case for over a billion people in other parts of the world.

Substitute mobile phones for education, financial services, healthcare or social services for you and your family, and not being able to prove who you are can have serious consequences. As a result, the global development community has turned its attention to the one-in-seven people on the planet who “don’t officially exist” in many eyes because they lack a formal identity through any easily-presentable paperwork. 

In recognition of the scale of the problem, identity was included within the United Nations’ Social Development Goals (SDGs), launched in 2015 with the goal of providing legal identity for all by 2030 including free birth registrations. Around the world, 250 million children under five didn’t have their birth registered, and in sub-Saharan Africa alone over 50 per cent of children remain unregistered by their fifth birthday. If the tap feeding this unregistered birth epidemic can be turned off, then we can at least stop the problem getting any bigger. 

Not having something as straightforward as a birth certificate can be profound. Thirty-two countries in sub-Saharan Africa require a birth certificate to access education, 16 require one to access social support, and six to access healthcare. In Indonesia a birth certificate is the only form of legal identity, yet 58 per cent of the poorest children don’t have their births registered. As they get older, how do they claim rights to things like land, inheritance and nationality?

International Identity Day is designed to highlight each of these issues and help rally the global humanitarian and tech communities to develop solutions.

At Yoti, since our founding in 2014 we have been fully committed to the concept of digital identity for all. Our commercial activities are centred around online tools and apps that allow people to prove who they are, whilst our social purpose activities support the building of solutions for those without mobile devices, or without access to the Internet, in less developed countries.

You can read more about these efforts on our website here, or in this downloadable Social Purpose Strategy deck.

 

Written by Ken Banks our Head of Social Purpose

The UK government’s digital identity consultation response

We’re pleased to see the publication of the UK government’s Digital Identity: Consultation Response. We and others, like techUK, have been calling on the government to reveal its plans for digital identity and this response is a step in the right direction.

There are three things that we particularly like.

Principles-based approach

First, the need for a principles-based approach, spanning privacy, transparency, inclusivity, interoperability, proportionality and good governance.

Yoti was founded on core business principles, which have enabled us to develop a suite of digital identity products with the user’s interests at their core. 

It’s good to see the government following the same approach, and that their principles will be reviewed annually so that they can be kept in line with legal and normative developments in the UK. 

Broad application of digital ID

Secondly, the government has signalled that there is legislation in the works to ensure that digital ID can be used as broadly as possible.  We know there are some easy wins for the government, like changing the existing mandatory licensing regime for alcohol sales to allow retailers to rely on robust, privacy-preserving digital age verification. In addition, the industry seeks certainty that amendments, such as usage of digital ID for Right to Rent Checks, will continue after the COVID-19 pandemic ends.

More data sources

Finally, the government intends to open up additional data sources.  There are specific data sets that the government controls, which could be used to combat fraud, such as DVLA data and death registries. 

The Document Checking Service pilot is underway but it’s currently limited to passport data.  If the government wants to show it’s serious about using digital identity to stop fraudsters, it needs to think about enabling other key data to be checked against by digital identity providers.

 

Digital identity for economic recovery

The central role played by digital identity in underpinning the digital economy and helping the country’s economic recovery means there’s a strong case for the government to act on its statements swiftly. 

However, the lack of specifics or timelines in the government’s response makes us worried that the implementation of digital ID, which requires cross-departmental working, is yet to have clear ownership and a clear mandate to enable digital identity to support the UK’s economic recovery. 

Clearly, now is the time for combined and transparent action across key government departments and a timeline for legislative changes as modelled by leaders such as Canada and Singapore. 

#MarginalizedAadhaar: Is Aadhaar a Tech Solution for a Socio-Economic Problem?

This is the fourth field diary entry from Subhashish, one of our Digital Identity Fellows. His year-long research project is focused on the challenges and opportunities within marginalised groups most affected by Aadhaar, India’s national digital ID system.

***

You cannot fix using the law what you have broken using technology says Indian cybersecurity expert Anand Venkatanarayanan, quoting Professor Sunil Abraham at the Kenyan High Court. Venkatanarayanan was appearing as a witness for the Nubians, a discriminated community for whom the Kenyan biometric database National Integrated Identity Management Scheme (NIIMS, also known as Huduma Namba) would create further exclusions after its implementation. Kenya and India do not just share a common history of colonisation. The national biometric programmes in both countries — NIIMS and Aadhaar respectively — have striking similarities in furthering marginalisation and criminalisation of communities who find themselves already underrepresented.

The architects of Aadhaar were given the task of providing a technological solution to solve a deeply complex socio-economic challenge. India has a long history of racial oppression — one that existed much before colonisation and one that continues long after India’s formation as a democratic republic in 1947. After a decade of Aadhaar, the issues that the project was expected (or hoped) to resolve persist while many extremely marginalised communities find themselves in a multitude of troubles, especially in relation to access to basic amenities and services.

As intimate conversations as part of my research indicate (see Field Diaries #1, #2 and #3) communities that are the most marginalised end up being further exploited as a result of our absolute trust in tech-solutionism. In this latest entry, I will be exploring how technological biases have materialised from systemic social issues of oppression in Indian society, especially in the context of Aadhaar.

 

‘Tech-weapons of mass exclusion’

One can only grasp a tiny portion of what a national biometric-based identity system like Aadhaar means to a common citizen when viewed through the lenses of different demographics — social, political, economical, regional, linguistic, religious, and most importantly, access to privileges for those who are at the bottom of the pyramid. Identity systems need to include a great deal of social inclusion and rights of individuals to address issues across the spectrum — from widespread inequality to nuances for a particularly vulnerable group. If they don’t, people with privileges but with no understanding of diversity and inclusion end up building tech-weapons of mass exclusion.

In my previous field diary, I highlighted many exclusions faced by people across India. Of those, the most haunting experience for me was when I listened to Harshabati Kheti, an old woman who had lost her fingers, and, over the span of 11 months, was stopped multiple times from enrolling by the authorities at her local Aadhaar enrolment centre. Kheti was denied food grains, rations and even emergency relief after the COVID-19 outbreak because of a technological limitation in Aadhaar. After initially being reported on Twitter by the Odisha State chapter of the National Right to Food campaign, and further reporting by myself, the state authorities intervened and provided Kheti the rice she was long entitled to.

Aadhaar has been deployed for biometric-based authentication in the distribution of food grains and rations through the Public Distribution System (acronymed PDS — a federal government initiative to provide food and essential commodities to people in need with the objective of eradicating poverty). Between the 2001 and the 2011 Indian census, the number of people in need with disabilities rose from 21 to 26.8 million (a 22.4% increase).

Professor Reetika Khera, in “Dissent on Aadhaar: Big Data Meets Big Brother” notes that:

[..]The most forceful framing of Aadhaar was as an enabler of welfare. Identity and inclusion were the twin objectives that proponents used to sell the idea to the Indian public.[..]The claim was that having an Aadhaar number would enable inclusion. Non-existent beneficiaries were everywhere, according to the UIDAI narrative. A centralised database with a unique number associated with each person would sanitize beneficiary databases of such non-existent beneficiaries.[..]”

 

Contextualising tech

One cannot talk about technology, particularly in India, without discussing systemic racial discrimination. India’s political power dynamics are much more racially divisive than ever before, and this has now become part of an apparatus for exclusion. The caste system in Hinduism divides people of Hindu faith into four major classes whereas a group of communities are considered as outcastes and untouchables. These communities, collectively known as Dalits in progressive discourses, are classified as Scheduled Castes in the Indian Constitution.

The Bharatiya Janata Party, the ruling right-wing nationalist political party dominated by “upper-caste” Hindus, has been pushing to exclude the Dalit, Muslim and Adivasi people – and several other marginalised communities – through divisive policies. From the perspectives of human rights, the technological implementations of these policies often translate into inherent design flaws.

Access to information your native language

One might wonder why Aadhaar-based authentication requires the Internet as a primary dependency when there have been 402 internet shutdowns and many other Internet slowdowns imposed by the current government since 2014. Furthermore, the 104 million Adivasis who are largely excluded because they come from low-income groups, get further excluded when they cannot learn anything about Aadhaar in their native languages.

Sora-language speaker Manjula Bhuyan from Odisha, India, highlights the importance of accessing information about digital identity in one’s native language (downloadable videos with captions and transcripts here).

 

Declared illegal

The impact of this systemic bias ranges from Dalit and Muslim schoolchildren from low-income families being denied of scholarships because of errors in Aadhaar, to Muslim citizens being harassed and asked to provide proof of citizenship. Muslims in the state of Assam have been among the hardest hit1.9 million (mostly Muslims) out of the 33 million population of the State were declared illegal during the National Register of Citizens (NRC), a programme designed to eliminate illegal immigrants.

The state of digital identity took a critical turn when 1.9 million people of the total population of 31 million were declared illegal (downloadable videos with captions and transcripts here).

 

I contacted Ashraful Hussain, an activist who works closely with many discriminated Assamese Muslims. What Hussain shares is heart-wrenching. “Most Muslims – and even many Hindus of [West] Bengal origin – were purposely excluded in the ‘original inhabitant‘ category by the officers who were in charge of the NRC drive.”

The 1.9 million people whose names were left out in the list of “legal citizens” have only one option left — to appear before the Foreigner’s Tribunal to prove their citizenship in a judicial process. With the NRC exercise on hold during the COVID-19 lockdown, the fate of all these people hangs in the balance. Hussain fears that these people, who are becoming poorer due to lockdown restrictions, willneed to pay for the legal battle to prove their citizenship when lockdowns are lifted. But that said, the exclusion goes much further. “As many Muslim women are illiterate and are unable to find documents to establish their parental link, these women and their children are out of the the [NRC] list”, adds Hussain.

NRC is deeply linked with Aadhaar. As lawyer Tripti Poddar explains, biometric data of individuals were collected during the NRC process. Those who made it to the NRC were issued Aadhaars whereas those who did not were denied. Poddar further argues that even a foreigner residing in India can receive an Aadhaar, but a citizen flagged by the NRC can be stripped of their constitutional rights.

 

 

Blog header credits: Biometric details being captured in an Aadhaar enrolment centre in Kolkata, West Bengal, India (Biswarup Ganguly, CC-BY-3.0)

Identity theft in the Western Cape

This is the fourth field diary entry from Tshepo, one of our Yoti Digital Identity Fellows. His year-long research project is looking at the digital identity landscape in South Africa, with a specific focus on the national smart ID identity programme from a human rights perspective. To follow his whole research project, you can find an archive of his monthly field diary entries here.

*****

Identity theft is rising in South Africa, with fraudsters costing the economy more than R1 billion every year. While each province has its own story to tell in terms of statistics and impact, the problem is truly a national one. My research has continued in the Western Cape, the official COVID-19 epicentre of South Africa, as new challenges have affected this widely known city – the one with blue skies and an ocean view, overlooked by Table Mountain. The area has been hard hit by the pandemic that continues to spark fear and distress among the locals and the government. As of the 28th June 2020, the Western Cape had accounted for 59,315 confirmed cases out of around 132,000 cases nationally.

The Western Cape insisted on re-opening its economy despite resistance from the national government, claiming that it has been their high levels of testing that has led to the high number of detected cases. This high level of testing has resulted in significant challenges across the city as health workers fanned out to businesses and people’s homes to carry out tests. Being able to identify who is, and who isn’t, a bona-fide health worker has turned out to  be a big challenge. 

 

Increased fraud during covid

Cape Town, previously known as the city that never sleeps, is eerily empty in the evenings due to lockdown restrictions. But one thing is for sure – fraudsters operate with no lockdown restrictions. Many have taken advantage of the lull to reinforce their positions within the city, something which has been easier than normal given the cities primary focus on flattening the curve of the coronavirus.

 

Identity theft

Unlike other provinces, the Western Cape has seen positive adoption of the Smart ID Card. That said, even prior to COVID-19 there were many reported cases of ID theft and many organisations have started taking an interest in the prevalence of identity theft and what it means for its victims. Many people go about their daily lives unaware that they were victims of fraud until they see the negative knock effect of their credit score. Some have indicated that they usually only find out they have become victims of identity theft when checking their credit report while applying for a home loan or car finance.

Passport fraud

The province has also faced challenges offering relief to undocumented refugees and providing shelter for homeless people. Fraudsters regularly take advantage by selling applicants fake IDs and passports. This takes place in the wake of a pandemic where everyone will do anything to get access to government handouts. The increased rate of passport forgery has been alarming. Eight foreign nationals and a South African home affairs department official have recently been arrested in connection with alleged corruption related to passports.  

Financial fraud

Citizens in the province have also indicated they’ve been noticing an increase in the number of fraudulent transactions in their accounts, a type of fraud that is becoming a trend in South Africa as a direct result of high identity theft. Consumers who discover fraudulent transactions on their bank accounts face a barrage of red tape to sort out the problem, and a threat of blacklisting if they try to stop the payment.

There has also been a rise in the number of people who have been blacklisted over unpaid accounts they’ve never opened or unpaid invoices from reputable companies that they have never engaged with. With companies now willing to allow people to agree contracts or open accounts online instead of over the phone or in person, fraudsters have had a field day opening accounts on behalf of their victims using their information, and purchasing goods. 

Unemployment fraud

The province also has an unemployment rate of 20.4%, with many businesses closing and people being laid off. Fraudsters have also been able to take advantage here, pretending to represent companies or HR departments with open positions and enticing their victims to submit applications using personal and other sensitive information. This information is then used to commit different kinds of financial or identity fraud. 

Transport

Since the Western Cape is a coastal province with a major port, fraud usually takes place in trade-related services where goods are obtained illegally before being transported up-country. To put it simply, fake identities are used to load or unload goods at the hub and ports. Department of Transport employees have recently been arrested for allegedly illegally importing vehicles which were fraudulently registered, and for issuing fraudulent police clearances in the Western Cape.

 

Biometric authentication as a solution?

Another problem arises when people throw personal documents away without first shredding them. Fraudsters now target frequently-used dustbins in search of personal documentation they can use to impersonate a victim. Fraudsters are even impersonating officials by claiming to be from the fraud department alerting the client of a possible fraud attempt, effectively luring the victim to hand over personal details to access their funds. As a result, local companies are beginning to place their hopes on biometric authentication solutions, aimed at validating and verifying someone’s data using their identity registered on the Department of Home Affairs database.

Locals have also indicated they sometimes make use of services from the Southern African Fraud Prevention Service (SAFPS), a non-profit organisation which is leading the fight against fraud and financial crime. They have a database with all the banks and can signal alerts during a scam. Locals are continually advised to use a secure place to store and protect their identities, with the Government of Cape Town now taking it upon themselves to educate the public in how to avoid identity theft

FRANKD & Yoti’s breakthrough COVID-19 testing system brings UK theatre back to a socially-distanced stage

We couldn’t be more excited to see our breakthrough COVID-19 testing system get the UK’s first socially-distanced indoor theatre performance on stage at the Troubadour Wembley Park Theatre.

Sleepless, A Musical Romance, will be performing daily COVID-19 tests with FRANKD & Yoti, which delivers a result directly to an individual’s phone within 30 minutes of being tested. The FRANKD tests will be carried out and analysed on-site in the theatre without the need for a laboratory.

This fast and effective testing system will help the theatre company create a COVID-secure environment and rehearse safely before their premiere on Tuesday 1 September 2020. The spacious venue means that there will be no physical contact between the staff and audience at any time and that social distance measures can be strictly obeyed.  Audiences will be temperature checked on entering the building and will be requested to wear face masks.

What’s the FRANKD test?

The FRANKD test is a Nucleic Acid Amplification Test (NAAT), which is recommended by the WHO for testing for SARS-CoV-2. The test detects the presence of SARS-CoV-2 RNA by using samples taken from the nose or mouth with a swab stick. These samples are mixed with a patented enzyme and analysed in a portable machine with no need for a laboratory. 

This test is a low-cost alternative to polymerase chain reaction (PCR) technology, which uses heating and cooling cycles to amplify the amount of genetic material present in a sample. FRANKD uses Loop-Mediated Isothermal Amplification (LAMP) technology to allow DNA amplification without requiring these time-consuming heating and cooling cycles or the specialist equipment to create these environments.

Developed by leading biotech company GeneMe, the FRANKD test has been independently verified to deliver 100% accuracy on Covid-19 specificity / sensitivity and carries the European CE regulatory mark. Up to 90 samples can be processed in the portable analyser in under 30 minutes, making it easily scalable for mass testing across the population.

How will it work?

The cast and crew behind Sleepless will be asked to download the free Yoti app and secure their account with a phone number, PIN and security selfie. This is their biometric key that links them to their account and ensures no one can mis-assert their test result.

Once set up, they can use their Yoti app to scan the QR code on their test kit. This links them to their unique test and ensures the correct result is automatically issued to its rightful holder once the test is complete.

A mouth swab is used to take a sample which is mixed with an enzyme and analysed in a portable machine along with up to 90 samples. 

As soon as the test result is registered centrally, the information will be automatically issued to the individual’s Yoti app, equipping them with a digital health certificate on their phone,

The show will go on

We are delighted to be working closely with Sleepless to prove just how simple and effective COVID-19 testing can be and help get the theatre and live events industry back up and running. We hope to help many sectors, from healthcare to airports, factories, corporates and small businesses, who are all in need of accurate, fast, on-premise testing.

It’s been exciting to join forces with the GeneMe team and demonstrate the limitless potential of our app.

If you’d like to know more, you can find our testing guide here or you can get in touch and we’d be happy to discuss how we can help you with fast, on-premise COVID-19 testing.

The personal cost of accessing Covid financial support in Argentina

This is the fourth field diary entry from Paz, one of our Digital Identity Fellows. Her year-long research project is focused on unravelling what digital identity, and identity in general, means to the unemployed and under-employed individuals receiving support from public job centres and local labour organisations in Gran Buenos Aires and Mar del Plata in Argentina.

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There’s little doubt that the Coronavirus pandemic is accelerating the digitisation of people’s everyday lives, in some places acting as an excuse to push certain groups to engage with technology and institutions in ways that might have seemed unlikely a year ago (just think of tracing apps, for example).

In Argentina, one less obvious example of this kind of engagement is with the Emergency Family Income Payment (IFE), a payment the government is providing to vulnerable workers (the self-employed, domestic and informal workers, for example) to help them cope with the crisis. According to those I have interviewed, the payment of 10,000ARG has proved invaluable as they try to stay afloat. But despite any good that has come out of these payments, I believe a closer examination sheds light on some problematic aspects of this newly-established relationship between the state, banks, and vulnerable citizens. This interaction with private institutions might – ironically – expose them to further exclusion as existing information and knowledge asymmetries could be amplified, deepening epistemic inequality in society.

The problems with the Emergency Family Income Payment (IFE)

The first IFE payment was made to approved applicants by direct transfer to their bank accounts or in person at public mail offices. But for the second payment, the government-mandated recipients could only receive the funds directly into their personal bank accounts. So those who weren’t banked had to very quickly become banked.

Today, getting banked is supposed to be easy, at least compared to how it used to be. A new type of bank account was announced by the government before the pandemic, called a free and universal bank account (cuenta gratuita universal or CGU), for any National Identity Card (DNI) holder regardless of their income or job situation. This account is free to maintain and all banks are obliged to offer it (how they go about offering it is another thing altogether – more on that in a future blog post, perhaps).

Returning to the IFE itself, one major problem has been how low-income undocumented workers (both migrants and Argentineans) have been excluded because one of the key requirements is that they have a valid DNI.

A second set of problems arises when people apply for the IFE, with the process particularly troublesome for the most vulnerable: having to apply online, opening bank accounts, and managing them through the banks’ apps which verify their identities using the SID, the digital identity system Argentina’s RENAPER (The National Registry of Persons) implemented in 2018. SID was built on top of the large and centralised national identity database system.

These requirements – being able to effectively find information online, to run complicated paperwork-type tasks, to protect and store personal information and digital identities (such as usernames and passwords) in order to access ANSES (the public agency in charge of IFE) and the banks’ apps over and over again, or needing a certain type of hardware that is their own, and so on – become problematic because of the information and knowledge asymmetries we know exist. People are not being given the option to opt out of these digital interactions, despite the urgency for a benefit like IFE. Let’s think of unemployed workers who have a physical disability and no internet at home, blind people, those with no smartphones or computers, those who just do not know how to navigate the online space and have no-one to ask for assistance.

Some of the NGO workers I interviewed mentioned the long hours they have had to spend, at the beginning of quarantine, helping people apply for IFE (despite that not being their job), and their anguish at knowing that some of the most vulnerable would probably not be able to apply for IFE because they didn’t have anyone to help them with the process. Recently, I myself helped one of my interviewees, Lisandro, find information on how to open a bank account to collect the second IFE payment. Lisandro is a clever and highly articulate guy in his twenties who has no wifi at home and unreliable connectivity on his five-year-old, second-hand smartphone. I spent hours on the internet, on the phone with a bank, and using Twitter and Facebook to ask banks about why the apps didn’t work on Lisandro’s phone. For me, I was very aware that I have a laptop and a good internet connection and don’t have the stress of wondering how I’ll eat next week.

Handing over personal information

You may be wondering why this is different from other situations in which governments handle benefits online, and which might complicate people’s lives. In short, it is because it involves the explicit sharing of highly personal and immutable information. And because of this, it ends up normalising the giving away online of all that we are. It is also different because banks hold a lot of power, and because IFE beneficiaries aren’t given the chance to decide whether they want these banks to have access to their biometric data. And they do not have much of a choice given they can’t afford not to try to access IFE. Higher income citizens aren’t put in this situation by the government.

People are being forced to engage digitally in order to verify they are who they say they are to get the IFE, and in the process provide third parties with all the information contained in their DNIs. It’s not unusual to be asked to show some proof of identity whenever we are asked to, and this is a fairly standard (and expected) process here in Argentina. But in this case people aren’t just required to show their physical credential (DNI), they are being asked for much more – and the how and why have not been made explicit.

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