Yoti, a British start-up, is trying to establish a global identity system that protects users from both identity theft and having their data collected and exploited. All personal data remains within the Yoti ecosystem, where different elements – name, gender, date of birth etc – are encrypted and stored separately. Only the individual user can tie it all together.
Yoti – derived from Your Own Trusted Identity – requires a smartphone, and there are apps for both Apple iOS and Android. The potential audience is in the billions.
Yoti requires each user to create a digital identity. This involves providing biometric identifiers such as video and speech, plus an image of a government-backed identification document, such as a passport or a driving licence. Yoti discards these after the ID has been created. Yoti’s co-founder and CEO Robin Tombs says passport images are deleted after seven days.
Users who have Android phones with NFC can read the chip in their digital passport. Tombs says Apple doesn’t allow this at the moment.
If a company wants to verify a user, it presents them with a QR code that they can read with the Yoti app. They can verify their Yoti ID by entering a 5-digit pin and, if necessary, by videoing themselves and by speaking random words displayed on the smartphone screen. If you’re holding your smartphone in the usual way, the video is easily captured: the app just turns on the front-facing camera.
Tombs says the system isn’t completely foolproof because some people may have fake passports or fake driving licences. However, it’s more secure than alternatives such as database lookups based on names and addresses, electoral rolls, birthdays, mothers’ maiden names and similar pieces of information.
One advantage for users is that they can verify their identities without divulging extra information. For example, if you proffer a driving licence or passport to prove that you are over 18, you’re revealing a lot of personal information, not just your date of birth.
Another advantage is that people can use a single Yoti ID for multiple purposes, such local clubs, supermarkets, banks or…