Interview: Yoti CEO Talks Digital Identification & Going Viral

Yoti is a brand new, UK based digital identity app which claims to be “The easiest, most secure way to prove your identity online and in person.”

The company recently went viral with their ‘Little Casanova’ awareness video – a lighthearted take on the dangers of not being able to verify the identity of an online dating match.

The video, which shows a cheeky 12-year-old on dates with women expecting a 29-year-old, has been viewed (at the time of writing) over 13 million times.

Setting up Yoti is free, and only takes a matter of minutes. Once users are securely registered on the app, their data is protected by advanced hybrid encryption technology (and not even Yoti can see it).

Once individuals are using Yoti, they are able to do a ‘Yoti swap’ with other individuals online – giving mutual assurance that the other person is who they say they are.

Users are also able to restrict the flow of their personal data significantly by only sharing relevant pieces of information with individuals and companies.

The startup is taking steps to make the internet less risky in other ways as well – safer dating ambassador Anna Rowe is working with Yoti, and she contributes to the blog on their website with tips for consumers.

Dating apps, which are notoriously prone to fake accounts and scams, are likely to be one of the areas where Yoti’s technology is highly applicable.

GDI caught up with CEO and Founder Robin Tombs to find out more about the app, and how it might help to make our online lives safer.

So tell us a little bit about the inspiration for starting Yoti – what was it that alerted you to the need for an app like this?

RT: “Myself and my co-founder Duncan Francis were at a Spartan race in California in 2014, where thousands of people were queuing up to register and prove their identity with a passport or driving licence. The process was long, inefficient and a potential security risk, with people having to leave their valuable ID documents in a tent during the race.

“The current identity system is outdated and broken. It doesn’t make sense that we still have to rely on paper documents simply to prove our identity. It’s also not right that it’s too easy for people to create fake profiles online and pretend they’re someone else, or gain access to all of our personal details. This is shown by the continued rise of identity related fraud and issues that cost time, money and inconvenience to many people every day.

“We saw an opportunity to harness the growth and advancement in biometric technologies and increasing smartphone usage to develop a digital identity – giving people a simpler, faster and more secure way to prove who they are, online and in person. We want to build trust and transparency in the personal information people share – making it safer to get stuff done and do the things we love, via a secure platform.”

You’re working with both the NSPCC and Jagermeister – what are some of the most exciting applications of your technology?

RT: We’re very excited to be working with some great companies across a range of different industries. One of the most exciting ways Yoti can be used is to prove your age on nights out and when buying age restricted items from supermarkets. People can prove they are 18 years or over using their phone, without needing to show paper ID documents. Yoti verifies their full identity but the person only needs to share their 18+ attribute with the business, which promotes data minimisation to make it safer than sharing a paper ID with all your identity details.

“Yoti can also be used to check personal details of the people you meet online. We’re increasingly spending more of our lives online, but one of the main issues is that setting up fake profiles on the internet and pretending to be someone else is effortless and unregulated. Whether on a dating site or a buying/selling community, Yoti provides a fast, simple and secure way to swap verified personal details with the people you meet online. This creates more trust between people and gives both parties peace of mind about who they’re dealing with.”

Say the typical consumer has signed up to the big four or five social media sites, a few online retail sites, and a couple of online dating sites / online games. They’ve given Facebook apps / Google add ons most or all of the permissions they ask for. What kind of data would that consumer likely be giving away, and how much of that could be reclaimed by using Yoti?

RT: “Whilst social media logins are convenient, they tend to result in us giving over far more information than necessary. This could include sharing your date of birth, address and interests – even if the website you’re logging into doesn’t need these. These sites may also be able to track which websites you’re visiting and logging into.

“Yoti gives you a secure biometric login using facial recognition. You can use it to sign up to websites without giving away all of your details – making it more secure and giving you greater privacy than logging in via social media logins.”

How far down the road are you towards integrating Yoti with some of the big dating sites?

RT: “Over the past two years we’ve spoken with many of the UK’s leading dating sites about Yoti and how it can benefit the dating industry. Most reacted very positively and were looking forward to see us launch.

“Now that we’ve officially launched, with thousands of users downloading Yoti each day and several major partners on board, we expect to see dating sites join our ecosystem. We were also shortlisted for the Safer Dating Award in this year’s UK Dating Awards. These are very competitive so it was an honour to be a finalist.

“If two people meet on a dating site, they can still use Yoti to confirm the other person is who they say they are – even if the website hasn’t integrated Yoti. Both people need to create a Yoti and then do a simple Yoti swap with each other. They choose exactly what information they would like to swap to have confidence in the person they meet – their photo, name and age for example. Each person receives the others’ verified details and both people get a digital receipt in their Yoti app which confirms who they have shared details with.”

On the video – How did you come up with the premise for the dating advert? What has the experience of going viral been like? Has it been beneficial exposure for the business?

“We wanted to create a video to highlight the potential pitfalls of online encounters without verifying who the other person really is. It’s so easy for someone to create a fake profile online and pretend to be someone else. Unfortunately this often results in dating fraud, romance scams, and genuine people being tricked by fraudsters and catfish. It was important that the video was lighthearted but also conveyed this serious message at its core. We’re really pleased with the final outcome and have been overwhelmed by the response – to get over 11 million views in 48 hours is no small feat. We’re now up to over 13 million with over 50,000 shares.

“The video has been a great way to raise awareness of the potential risks of meeting strangers online, and we hope it will encourage people to swap verified details with their date – giving them peace of mind and confidence about who they’re really meeting. As the Little Casanova from the video said, ‘it just shows how careful you have to be, making sure that people are genuine before you meet them.’

This was a fun way to cut through and raise awareness, but we also work with campaigners like Anna Rowe who is pushing for changes in legislation around Catfishing – along with charities NSPCC and bodies such as the UK Council for Child Internet Safety.”

Scott Harvey

Scott is the Editor of Global Dating Insights. Raised in Dorset, he holds a BA from The University of Nottingham and an MSc from Lund University School of Economics and Management. Previously he has written about politics, economics and technology for various online publications.

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