As people continue to think about how the rise of "fake news", psychometric big data, and other developments in the tech world could have influenced big elections this year, a new startup called Authenticated Reality is launching today with a mission to help fix that with a focus on real-name identities and reputation management.
The basic idea with Authenticated Reality (URL is "areyoureal.com") is two-fold. At the front end, you will have a sidebar that appears to function like a Disqus- or Reddit-style commenting stream. This comes up with every piece of news or other content that you browse online, and there you can see what people are saying about those web pages. If something is being commented on, you can see the actual identity of the person making the criticism or the praise. The theory is that by pinning your comments to your actual name, you will be forced to be more authentic. (More on that below.)
At the back end, there is an extensive authentication service that verifies users when they register and pins their actual identities to their activities online. This will also be marketed as a B2B product to organizations that need to register and verify users for web-based services. This in itself is an interesting concept that may have a life of its own as a business.
Based out of Austin, Texas, Authenticated Reality -- which is coming out of stealth first as an iOS app in beta -- is interesting for another reason: it's being started by Revel Systems co-founder Chris Ciabarra, who quietly left the payments company last week with other co-founder Lisa Falzone (the company never specifically confirmed their departures) when Welsh Carson took a majority stake and appointed a new CEO.
There are apparently others from Revel that will be joining him but are not being disclosed yet. Ciabarra also said that some of Revel's previous backers will also be backing his new venture. The only one he's disclosing for now is Sean Tomlinson, who had been Revel's chairman. Others on Authenticated Reality's founding team include Darin Andersen (CEO, former chairman/founder of CyberTECH), Jessica Strickland (co-founder and Chief Social Officer) and Peter Zed (co-founder and Lead Developer).
Ciabarra said that it was his experiences at Revel and building a company that fought fraud, and also fought bitter competition, along with a lecture he delivered back in 2009 that got him thinking about what he might try to build next.
It's an approach that is partly based on tech that Ciabarra built, but also a theory that he has about how to combat some of the slippery and darker forces of the web. "Back in 2009 I spoke at a Homeland Security conference about what is wrong with the internet, and where it’s going, and now look at today," he said. "The problem with the internet is that everyone is allowed to hide and no one knows who you are. I think if we can see everybody, if you put your reputation behind everything, and that will fix things like fake news. That will stop you from putting out false information."
Authenticated Reality and the focus on reputation figure out how to fix reputation management.
"When I was working on Revel, I could see fake profiles, and how they talking trash about us. They were our competitors," he said. About a decade ago, he'd built some experimental software that could be used to help authenticate users. "I got to thinking about that again a few years, and so I took this software that I built 10 years ago but hadn't been working on it and returned to it."
That software is now the basis of Authenticated Reality.
The concept behind Authenticated Reality is interesting, but it is easy to imagine a ton of loopholes when it comes to implementing it in the real world. For example, who decides what "truth" actually is for a particular item of news? There will be many people who are happy to stake their reputations on a particular idea, and who truly believe that they are "right." And what about those who do not want to reveal private information about themselves but still want to browse online?
Or what if a page is extremely popular and sees millions of responses? How will you, as a user, be able to parse and browse that cacophony? And what about the fact that so much content today is not about the open web, but about walled gardens like Facebook's, where it can be extremely hard to trace the origin of viral content, and in any case its appearance is not based on organic but algorithmic sorting?
These are questions that Ciabarra said they are already weighing and working on during the beta. (For example, for now, to meet privacy preferences for some people, you can post anonymously, but if enough people in the community vote to reveal your identity, you must, or else you are barred from the platform.) The basic idea now will be to get it out into the market for people to try it out.
When you look at the full list of features so far, you can see, in any case, how Authenticated Reality might potentially pivot one day into a bigger enterprise tool for identity management. Per the company's own description:
● URL Commenting/Rating - Allows authenticated comments and ratings on every page of the
old internet (including profiles) - from home pages of businesses to LinkedIn profiles to
Facebook and beyond.
● Email Authentication - Users list all emails they wish to authenticate back to their profile of
The New Internet. This means that all emails that are real will be authenticated and highlighted in the mail app, reducing email fraud and impersonation.
● Website Authentication - By placing their name directly on the page, users can validate a site as legitimate, earning it more credibility as more people personally validate it.
To be a part of The New Internet beta, users can visit the Authenticated Reality booth (#839) at the RSA Conference in San Francisco, California February 13 to 17 or go to www.areyoureal.com to request access.
And when it comes to the bigger mission of raising the reality level of all content on the web, at the end of the day, this is an interesting thought and feature experiment that may work, or may be useful in thinking about how to shape other kinds of services in the future.
"Stop the anonymity and you’ll stop 95% of the crap out there," Ciabarra said.