Can online activity history help GOV.UK Verify work for more people?

02 August 2016

As part of the ongoing work to increase GOV.UK Verify’s demographic coverage, the GDS (Government Digital Service) team have been looking at projects that consider the use of different sources of activity history when proving an individual is who they say they are. In future could you use your Facebook or Linkedin account as part of the verification process?

The GDS Identity Assurance Blog provides an interesting update on this subject:

There 5 different elements involved in identity verification, and your chosen certified company has to achieve specific thresholds in each one before they can verify your identity. Although the creation of many online accounts does not require details of a real identity at the point the account is set up, the accounts themselves are potentially a useful source of evidence that an identity has been active over time. This means the accounts can provide evidence of activity history, as described in the Good Practice Guide 45, under Element E.

The user research involved 12 one-to-one sessions with users. We took users through the prototype of the user journey where we introduced a page that allowed them to choose from a number of online accounts to prove their activity history.

The overall reaction to using online accounts such as Facebook, PayPal, LinkedIn and others as part of the process of proving their identity was positive.

The younger the participant, the more likely they were to complete the task with ease. Users from the older demographic, while still completing the task, were more likely to raise privacy concerns or to be worried that their data would be used for purposes other than identity verification.

Because we always operate within the identity assurance principles, any new data source or method for identity proofing would only be implemented by certified companies if a user gave their explicit and informed consent. And it would be one of many options certified companies give users to assert their identity.

Compared to the findings from 2013-2014, our recent research suggests that people appear to be becoming more amenable to using online activity verification and allowing certified companies access to their personal online accounts to acquire a verified identity that gives safer, faster access to government services. Since 2013, there have also been developments in technology that allows for detection of whether the user is a real person or not. With these advancements the activity history of online accounts is much more valuable in an identity verification context.

After completing the user research, Veridu built a service that aligned with our standards for Element E - activity history. The service allowed users to assert their online account activity to see whether it would fulfil requirements for Element E.

We had 86 people, from across participating organisations, testing the service using their real online accounts. The service looked at the activity history within (one or more) online accounts asserted by the users. Veridu reviewed almost 240,000 activity events and scored them as per Element E of the standards. More than 86% of participants - using their online activity from Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites - met the requirements of Element E.

Office for National Statistics survey data commissioned by GDS suggests that 52% of UK adults have a social media account they use on a regular basis (at least once a month). The data we’ve gathered shows that if activity from such accounts could be used for activity history, GOV.UK Verify’s demographic coverage of the adult population overall could increase by 9%, and for the 16-25 demographic could see a potential increase of up to 38%.”

Readers can subscribe to the Identity Assurance Blog for regular updates.