There’s a lot of talk nowadays about the harm done by anonymity on social media, which allows threats (even death threats), harassment, pedophilia, auction fraud, credit card fraud, phishing, and other crimes to go unpunished because most of the time, it’s still very hard to find out who’s hiding behind a pseudonym or any given account hence it’s very difficult to stop anonymous abuse on social media.
Not to mention the so-called cyborgs. Their tweets are so advanced it’s hard to tell if it’s a robot or a real person writing. Intoxication in mass false information networks attempting to disconcert people, cast doubt on information, and destroy the possibility of the Internet being a democratic space is a challenge the current socio-political system has to face, a system where its own politicians have been known to make use of these resources.
How bad is Internet crime really?
The data on the damage being caused online is revealing, especially on social media, where 81% of Internet crime happens mainly on Facebook and on Twitter.
Just to name a few, the UN estimates that 750,000 pedophiles are online at any given time and that the cases of suicide among teenagers being harassed online is on the rise. Cases like Amanda Todd, the 15 year old Canadian girl who took her life after cyberbullying from a case of sexcasting, is not an isolated incident.
If we want more statistics, 33% of all sex crimes that started online started on social media. In a total of 50% of all sex crimes on minors, the offenders got information or pictures of the victim through their profile on a social network. Don’t forget that by 2010, 25% of Facebook users were under 10 years old.
New online platforms like Cabify and Airbnb aren’t offering the trust we need either, since they don’t cross-check owners’ or drivers’ identities to make sure they’re the real deal. Not too long ago we heard cases of women raped by Cabify drivers or Airbnb apartment hosts.
Internet, friend or foe?
The problem, unfortunately, isn’t the Internet. It’s how some people act on Internet. That’s why we need now and more than ever that Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and the rest of the social media sites and major platforms to get together and put in place measures that can provide the real identity of each user to dissuade them from criminal activity and that offer the possibility of getting to problems like these before they start.
As social media and the big players like Facebook and Amazon penetrate finance they will have to comply with regulatory requirements and generate trust under a legal and secure framework. Financial cybercrime (spam, smishing, phishing, pharming) could mostly be prevented if every person, every profile created, had a real confirmed identity behind it. It’s not about the fake names or pseudonyms: the important thing is that the person behind the account can be called upon if there’s a legal problem to generate trust and encourage trade.
Pressure from governments, sure, but is there a viable solution out there?
Governments are starting to put the pressure on but till now no one had figured out just how to check the issue of abuse committed anonymously while at the same time guaranteeing people’s privacy to continue encouraging correct use of the internet and social media as a way to communicate and spread democracy.
Each day more steps are taken to identify the people behind each profile. Facebook, for instance, insists on the phone number linked to your account. It’s too bad it’s not that useful to really know who’s hiding behind the profile and really know they’re who they say they are. Many crimes go unpunished and we would need to adapt to a new system that guarantees basic rights and freedoms.
WeChat ID, the biggest social network in China with over 889 million users that offers a variety of services such as instant messaging, meet new people online, have a news feed from friends (like Facebook) and also pay whatever you like (order food, pay utility bills, etc).
This all-in-one app just rolled out a new function that lets users have a digital version of their official and governmental ID cards. This pilot is working pretty well in the southern Guangdong province and will be extended nationwide.
Nevertheless, at present, one out of every five adults online claims they have been the victim of some kind of cybercrime. More than a million people are new cybercrime victims every day. The financial toll is bigger than the black market of cocaine, heroine, and marijuana combined.
Video identification as the optimal solution to stop anonymous abuse
Thanks to artificial intelligence and machine learning there is a tool capable of generating trust and providing the security that is so badly needed, running data against black lists. Identifying yourself with your face and your ID, whatever country it’s from, is possible with the maximum legal and technical guarantees. Your privacy will not be infringed upon at any time; the data is held by an independent third party that ensures that your information is not used for other purposes or sold to corporations. It is held with the utmost security to be able to recover that identity when strictly necessary and to help investigate criminal activity and put a name and a face on the alleged offender.
In the short term, a new system in which each user has to identify themselves online with their face and their ID will create friction, but in the long run this mechanism which identifies you in a matter of seconds will generate an unprecedented environment of trust and legality in which the Internet as we know it will disappear and will come back stronger and more useful than ever. There are different ways to identify users with the necessary guarantees but video identification is the only universal one. It can be done from any device that has a camera and of any person with an ID or passport. It’s scope is limitless.
Security for new unexplored business lines will increase without putting citizens at risk, trust will grow, and a secure environment will be created against possible hate crime, paving the way for a more democratic Internet, such as has never been seen before.