One of the central topics I cover is the still emerging field that technology companies call trust and security. Most of the time, it’s security that makes the headlines: hate speech on Facebook; Apple scanning devices for child abuse images; COVID misinformation on YouTube. Today I want to talk about the trust side of the equation, specifically how platforms verify profiles. More specifically, why should they check your profiles, if you like. Does not matter who you are.
Verification may seem like a dry topic, but those little checkmarks mean a lot to people. (You’ll learn this once you get your checkmark, and your friends and family will immediately start asking how they can get yours, too.)
They also end up embarrassing online platforms on a regular basis.
In April, I wrote about the case of Amazon’s Twitter army. At the height of Amazon’s job battle in Bessemer, Alabama, there was no way to distinguish between workers who actually represented Amazon and those who posted satirically. The Twitter verification program, which I had just spent three years review, had not anticipated a case in which the authenticity of grassroots workers would come under scrutiny.
Then last week, Twitter shut down its entire verification program again, after falsely verifying at least six bot accounts. Here’s Mitchell Clark for The edge:
Twitter is halting the expansion of its verification program, saying it needs to work through the application and review process that allows people to enter the blue checkmark club. This change, in which Twitter will not allow new people to request verification, comes after Twitter admitted that several fake accounts, which apparently appeared to be part of a botnet, were incorrectly verified. […]
This isn’t the first time Twitter has halted its verification program – it put the public process on hold in 2017, after receiving backlash for verifying one of the organizers behind the Unite The Right rally in Charlottesville. It recovered a revamped version in 2021 and stopped it a week later due to a flood of requests.
Built into Twitter’s approach is the idea that verification should be rare and valuable, reserved only for “notable” accounts. Facebook and Instagram take a similar approach. One of my core beliefs is that reserving verification for “notable” accounts actually reduce trust in networks in general. reserve special privileges for elites, such as customer service, which should be available to everyone; it confers moral authority on whoever manages to obtain a check mark, even if they are one of the worst actors in the network; And, of course, it generates contempt among regular users and “bluechecks”.
Now maybe at this point you are saying: Thank you very much Casey. Another intractable platform problem that will haunt us as long as we live. Not so! Because another platform has approached the issue of user authenticity in a totally different way, and the results have been … pretty good.
The platform is Tinder, the popular Match Group dating app. In April I wrote about the app movement last year. to allow anyone to verify their account by sending some selfies:
Upon request, Tinder sends the user an image of a model performing specific poses. Users take selfies in the displayed poses and send them to Tinder; photos are reviewed by your community team. If the user’s poses match those of the model, they get a blue check mark. The process takes about a day.
Cat fishing is still a major problem on dating apps, so self-service verification like these solves an obvious problem. And even though a blue check mark on Tinder doesn’t tell you everything you need to know about a possible date, it dramatically increases the chances that the person you are talking to will at least resemble your photo. The benefits are significant enough that, from what I can tell, most of the Tinder users in my area have already verified their profiles.
Tinder could have stopped there. But executives noted that their approach to verification was limited in a significant way: A significant number of Tinder users do not display images of themselves for security reasons, particularly women and LGBTQ + people outside of the United States. Many of these users could still benefit from verifying that they are authentic human beings looking for romance and friendship, and not bots or scammers. But if they refused to upload photos of themselves, how could they?
This week, Tinder said he is developing a solution to that problem. The company is preparing to launch a second form of supplemental verification for users who do not want to show their face. Instead of verifying a user’s identity through photos, Tinder will ask for another form of verification: a driver’s license, for example. (The company said it would “take into consideration expert recommendations, our members’ feedback, which documents are most appropriate in each country, and local laws and regulations, as it determines how the feature will be implemented.”)
“An identity verification gives that person a way to say, I’ve shown Tinder that I’m real, without necessarily showing their face if that’s something you’re not comfortable with,” said Rory Kozoll, head of trust and security product on Tinder, in an interview.
The feature is still in development and there is no timetable for its launch (beyond “in the next few quarters”). But Tinder has been testing identity verification in Japan since 2019, and the company says it has worked well enough there that it plans to launch it globally. When that happens, you can choose to verify yourself both through your photos other your identification, with both controls that appear on your profile. (The company hasn’t decided exactly how it will represent this visually on the profile.) And as Tinder engages more and more people, trust in your network will increase.
“We’ve heard from customers early on that authenticity was the biggest issue they had,” said Kozoll, who joined Tinder four years ago. “Just knowing: is this person who they say they are?”
The company declined to tell me how many people have chosen to verify their profiles, but said it is by far the most popular security-related feature the company has introduced to date. Tinder also said that verified profiles are more likely to “succeed” on Tinder – more matches, more conversations. You’re also helping the company counter the perception that its app, like any dating app, is chock-full of catfish.
“We’re definitely starting to see from our survey data and qualitative research that people are turning the corner on that,” Kozoll said. “Begin to feel like most of the people you see on Tinder are real. And we can correlate it with the introduction and adoption of photo verification. “
Kozoll told me that, just like on Twitter, users are sometimes verified even when they don’t match. But “the volume is extremely low, almost statistically insignificant,” he said.
In any case, he said, the benefits of checking anyone who asks have outweighed the risks of an occasional false positive.
Looking at the success of Tinder here, I can’t help but wonder what would happen if Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or even YouTube took a similar approach. (You need 100,000 subscribers to request verification on YouTube). Photo verification could help platforms distinguish humans from bots, an increasingly urgent need in a world where AI-generated images can often deceive the naked eye. Identity verification could help people prove their authenticity even if they are not considered notable figures.
I’d also love to see the platforms allow people to optionally verify their employers via email address, to find out if all those scientists, academics, and law enforcement officers are who they say they are, as long as events conspire to bring them to life. world. daily news cycle.
I asked Kozoll to what extent he thought Tinder’s verification measures could be adopted by the industry in general.
“I don’t want to boast that I know more about other businesses than they do,” he said. “But I think what we’re doing today is a viable approach to dating apps.” He noted that Tinder’s ideas here are not entirely original – the company was inspired by gig economy startups that require conductors to similarly verify their photos.
“I think companies that bring people together in real life … have more interest in making sure those people have a higher level of authenticity,” he said. “The same rules can be applied more broadly on social media, but I understand the concerns around free speech and anonymity.”
But the key lesson from Tinder is that verification doesn’t have to be a binary yes or no option. Platforms can choose to allow users to verify aspects of their identity in different ways, awarding different badges or other benefits based on what people choose to share. If they do, I imagine they’ll see what Tinder did: a network that more people trust each other over time.
In the meantime, you can likely be verified twice on Tinder before you can do it once anywhere else. As Twitter reconsiders how to verify its user base once again, Tinder has provided it with a compelling roadmap. We hope Twitter passes it.
This column was co-published with Platformer, a daily bulletin on Big Tech and democracy.