One person asked me a single question that changed the course of my life. They led me on a quest that hundreds, perhaps even thousands of other people are obsessed with. It’s a quest that has led to New York, Washington D.C., London, Madrid, San Francisco, and now with my co-founders, around the world.
We want to fix the biggest unsolved problem on the Internet: Identity.
At its core the Internet is anonymous. To prove your identity, you have to surrender your privacy. And to confirm someone else’s identity is almost impossible. Instead, the Internet has been taken over by weaponized anonymity.
Malicious actors often begin by concealing their digital identity, exacting a toll on individuals and society alike. The consequences range from cyber attacks, hacking, catfishing, spam, fake reviews and misinformation. It’s a drain on our economy, undermines our democracies and hinders our ability to tackle complex issues. The direct and easily quantifiable losses are staggering. Digital fraud costs merchants 3% of revenue, while they spend an additional 10% attempting to prevent it. This amounts to a 13% tax on business revenue, effectively paid to digital criminals with no compensating benefits.
How do we solve the problem of trusted identity on a global scale? How do we solve this without forcing individuals to hand over their most sensitive and most private personal information to every single website and app they interact with?
Any viable solution needs to be well understood, privacy protecting, anchored in the free market so as to offer people a wide range of options, but still well regulated, not controlled by a limited set of tech oligopolies, and definitely not limited to a single government solution that could easily be turned into an instrument of tyrannical repression.
The solution is to use banks to protect and verify digital identity. Thanks to their rigorous identity verification protocols and adherence to regulatory compliance, banks emerge as formidable allies in the fight against digital fraud. Banks know how to do this. They have been in the business of building trust since Banco dei Medici started issuing letters of credit in 1397. Back then, the result was an explosion of trade the generated the capital used to Michelangelo, Da Vinci and the Renaissance itself.
And there is plenty of proof that a bank-verified digital identity works. In Norway and Sweden, over 99% of the adult population uses it to access nearly everything online. In Norway, fraud in the system has been reduced to only 0.00042% of digital transactions.
For me, this journey started when I was Global Head of Identity for Santander, which is a massive global bank with over 153 million customers in Europe, North American and South America. We were exploring the idea of delivering bank-grade Trusted Identity as a Service. I was introduced to Ashish Jain, who was Head of Identity at eBay at that time. Ashish was really kind. He understood the scale of the challenge. He asked me something very simple. “It’s interesting if we help some buyers and sellers prove they are bank verified, but we need to be able to help all our customers. How are you going to get all the banks?”
That is the question that started a journey that is now more than four years long.
By answering it, I knew that we just might have a chance of bringing truth and trust and authenticity to the Internet.
I asked my colleagues at Santander how to reach “all the banks.” Turns out there was a simple answer. They introduced me to Brad Carr at the International Institute of Finance (IIF), which serves as the nerve center for the financial industry. The IIF has 450 financial institutions from across 70 countries, and plays a vital role in shaping policy, promoting best practices, and fostering cooperation among its members.
Things accelerated quickly. In addition to asking that key question, Ashish also said “it’ll only succeed if you use open standards.” He connected me to the OpenID Foundation, and with their help, we set up the Open Digital Trust Initiative. Over 100 of the world's largest banks and financial companies joined the discussion and helped produce the Principles for Digital Trust Networks. Then, my co-founder, Elizabeth Garber joined to co-led the editing of the Global Assured Identity Network (GAIN) whitepaper that was signed by 155 global identity experts.
The next question became “how do we bring this to market?” How do we get hundreds of banks across 70 different countries to start delivering ID verification services to millions of businesses at the behest of billions of end users?
Working with the amazing technical team at npm, I learned it is possible to scale globally. npm Inc. also showed the value of building a company to help catalyze a global community.
So, we have created a company. It’s called IDPartner Systems Inc. Elizabeth and I were joined by our co-founders, Trish Burgess and Brenan Isabelle. Trish was product and program manager on the Apple team that launched Apple Card. Brenan has an amazing track record growing revenue for identity companies. We’ve also been joined by Chris McCaw as VP of engineering.
In true startup fashion, we’re a group of dreamers, a band of believers, and we’ve decided to take on the biggest “important problem” plaguing the internet: Identity.
Our vision is a future in which everyone can access the digital world with trust and confidence.
You can learn more about us at www.idpartner.com
Over the coming weeks, we will share more about how we are going to help people take control of their identity. We will show you how we are going to shift the paradigm of digital identity from something that focuses on systems for big companies to a global system that is focused on individuals.
If you would like to see how it works, you can sign up to try our first demo application. It is called NotABot and it helps you prove you are NotABot on Twitter.