How much value do you place on your social media profiles? For all the time and effort we've invested in them over the years, it's perhaps fair to say that they provide a relatively accurate picture of who we are and our temperament. We tweet friends, we post status updates expressing our opinions, we make jokes and we communicate what's happening to our friends and followers.
Since we've become more savvy with the online world, the majority of us treat what we say on social media just as seriously as we would if it was said in real-life. So how far away are we from these identities being treated the same way as a passport or an ID?
Breaking Down The Barriers
On the surface, there are many reasons why this hasn't happened yet: Anyone can set up a social media account, and verifying on the basis of their online profiles usually requires another type of ID since there's no system in place to properly review this. Unless there is a way to cross-check with a real-world database, or a controlled database, your profile has very little weight when you're looking for something that has significant value, either financially or otherwise.
However, since social media is now a well-established part of our lives and most people have been signed up to at least one of these services for one or two years, it's becoming more apparent that these social identities are becoming one of the more consistent features of our identity.
In the long-run, the physical aspects of our lives is becoming more disposable as people change addresses, phone numbers and jobs. Over the last few months, we're begun to see examples of our data being given a use that extends beyond targeted ads, like personalised results and recommendations.
With this in mind, it's looking like these profiles are on course to being treated the same way as a regular ID. A recent report from Gartner predicts that at least half of all new customer identities will be based on and reflective of social networking profiles and usage by 2015. This prediction was based on the concept of authentication, a trend that's becoming more prevalent with the numerous "Login with Facebook" and "Sign In With Twitter" buttons that more sites are using.
When you consider the amount of data that users put into their social media profiles, it's actually not as far-fetched as you would first think. It's not just an option to fill out our profiles, it's actively encouraged. Just look at LinkedIn, for example, a site that subtly encourages you to fill out your profile with a progress bar. That compulsion to let the world know who we are and separate ourselves from the rest is what drives us. Recent research from Javelin
only confirms this, showing that users are more than happy to add personal details about themselves.
Making Social Profiles Practical
What makes that report from Gartner rather timely is it came shortly after the launch of a new Irish startup, one that uses your social media identity to create a more secure e-commerce experience.
Trustev bills itself as the next generation fraud prevention and while it's very new, it provides a very practical use for your social profiles. While retailers usually have five or six main steps to go from checkout to purchase, Trustev adds one small, extra step to the process: Verification through social media. That means before you complete a purchase, you allow Trustev to access a profile (for now, you can connect with Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn) or multiple profiles to verify who you are.
For those worried that it just connects your profile and takes your word for it, the process is a little more complex than that. Through some complex algorithms, it analyses different data points on your profile to help verify your identity.
So looking at different aspects like the type of email address you use and how long you have been signed up to a particular service helps prove your identity. Since transactions happen almost anonymously, save a few personal details you enter, this would be as closest you can get to actually meeting a person in-store. Now you're not just dealing with a faceless entity, the customer's social profiles allow you to show that their intent is genuine.
The benefits behind this are rather obvious. The main purpose of fraud is fooling people and businesses into believing you're someone else and provided you're not completely careless with both your credit cards and online devices, it makes it more difficult for a fraudster to impersonate you. Since the data is already there, it saves the user the time and effort required to fill out such details, meaning that to them, the only extra step you need to take is selecting a profile.
It also deals with the changing nature of our lives and how we interact with institutions. Traditionally, the only way you could verify your identity to a major organisation is to provide a place of address or a bank account statement, but since people are more likely to rent and move to different places and bank statements are now mostly online, your social media profile is probably one of the more consistent possessions you have.
Also, the chances of you lying on your online profile over the long-term is lower than you would expect, and if you did, cross-verifying it with the information you've provided will send the alarm bells ringing.
A Two Way Street
While that's useful for the consumer, the benefits are mostly for the retailer's sake. While it's never good when a consumer is the victim of fraud, sometimes the merchant dealing with the transaction can suffer greatly as not only does it mean lost revenue, but lost stock since there's nothing to guarantee that they'll get it back, especially when it's physical goods.
It's easy to forget that like social media, e-commerce is very much a two-way street. Nobody likes being fleeced out of money and since return fraud costs $9 billion in the U.S. alone (a drop in the ocean compared to the $1 tillion e-commerce sales generated in 2012), bringing a new approach to digital transactions is important if we're to ensure that fraud is kept to a minimum.
Trustev isn't going to eliminate fraud entirely as hackers will always be looking for loopholes and ideas that will sidestep such measures and fraud prevention companies will have to keep up with them. Yet the startup is confident that it can greatly reduce the risk of fraud occurring and the measures it's taking to ensure this suggests that it has every reason to feel this way.
It's an ambitious aim, but one that's needed for the changing landscape that is e-commerce. considering that the only real use of our social data is to create targeted advertisements for brands, hopefully this will be the first of many initiatives that give our data a more practical use beyond sponsored stories or recommending a funny video you should watch.