The founder of a leading face scanning tech firm which works with UK and US government has questioned the use of facial recognition on the general public.
iProov CEO and founder Andrew Bud heads up the growing UK firm which uses a device’s inbuilt camera to scan and verify the presence of a registered user.
It is often referred to as a ‘facial recognition company’, but while the tech may sound identical to that which the police are currently trialling – and has caused at least one citizen to take legal action – Bud is clear that their tech is different.
“We’re not a facial recognition company,” he told BusinessCloud, “but it’s a completely reasonable mistake to make.”
Bud refers to the scale-up’s unique tech, powered in part by grants from Innovate UK and the UK government’s Innovation Agency. He describes it instead as ‘genuine presence assurance’.
Like a smartphone’s ability to remember its user’s face before unlocking, iProov’s technology – now used as part of major contracts in the US, Middle East, and Europe – only confirms that a person is who they claim to be.
It does so by scanning a user’s palm or face, and matches it against an existing record for that one user.
Surveillance-based facial recognition on the other hand means that “the person is not really aware, they’re certainly not consenting, and frankly, it’s a question of public debate as to whether they’re benefiting.”
“It’s extremely difficult not to get it wrong sometimes, and the user is not a part of the transaction,” he said.
iProov’s users include those who have downloaded the EU settled-status app, which enables EU citizens to obtain UK immigration status after Brexit through their phone, without having to go to an official in person.
But despite work on Brexit-based tech and successful testing with the US Department of Homeland Security, as a technologist Bud is less interested in chewing over ethics and more interested in building unbreakable tech.
“It’s possible to misrepresent what we do and then criticise the straw-man,” he said, but the company of around 30 are “grown-ups about that.”
“We’re very proud of the contribution we make to the safety of citizens and their identity.”
In his own words, Bud is ‘no stranger’ to political and press controversy.
Having founded mBlox in 1999, he created the world’s largest processor of mobile payments.
But in 2008 cybercriminals found a way to game the authentication mechanism of the system, and within a few months millions of people had their money stolen.
As the face of the company, Bud said journalists would ask him if he was ‘complicit or just recklessly incompetent’.
According to Bud, the regulator responsible for the investigation of the incident ultimately ruled they had behaved in an ‘exemplary manner’, but the questions, while harsh, were valid he said.
The ordeal was in part the inspiration for iProov, and fuels his ambition to be the leading firm in the world for the growing market of ‘genuine presence assurance’.
“We are at the cutting edge and we intend to stay there,” he said.
The company is part of a digital identity and document verification market which could be worth $15 billion by 2024, according to Goode Intelligence research.
But the company’s growth can only continue if it can show that their system, now in wide use across the world, remains ‘unhackable’.
“We are up against some of the very smartest people in the world, motivated by compelling criminal business models. We have to consider the dynamic, ever-changing threat,” he said.
“We have one advantage over the ceaseless experiments of our attackers, which is that every time they attack us we learn more from them than they learn from us.”
Every week Bud and his team take on the role of their potential hackers, using new technology to stress-test their own platform for flaws.
Bud points to a recent viral video of David Beckham, in which CGI facial manipulation or ‘deepfake’ tech allowed the footballer to fluently pronounce lines of dialogue in a range of languages.
Could this be used to fool iProov’s system? Bud said no – this is ‘legacy technology’ by the firm’s standards – and videos don’t exist in 3D space.
But even 3D faces have been tested. He and his team scanned their own heads and used a cutting edge high-definition 3D printer to bring the replicas into the real world.
The plastic heads did not fool the system either, said Bud, but they still needed a home.
“We’ve got a rather creepy collection of very life-like looking heads including my own, staring out at me from our test rooms. My wife won’t have it in the house!”
Bud’s next target is to have over a billion users in a market that is growing rapidly. He said that the company has gone from winning awards to winning big contracts in just a few years.
“Our biggest challenge is to ensure that the market understands the need to do this well,” he said.
“I am determined that iProov will never be either complicit or recklessly incompetent.”