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Hinge Will Try to Thwart Scammers With Video Verification

Hinge Will Try to Thwart Scammers With Video Verification

Match Group, which operates one of the world’s largest portfolios of dating apps, will soon add a new profile verification feature to its popular dating app Hinge. The feature is part of a larger effort to crack down on scammers who use fake photos and purport to be people they’re not on the app, often with the intent of eventually scheming romantic conquests out of money.

Jarryd Boyd, director of brand communications for Hinge, said in a written statement that Hinge will begin rolling out the feature, named Selfie Verification, next month. Hinge will ask users to take a video selfie within the app in order to confirm they’re a real person and not a digital fake. Match Group then plans to use a combination of machine learning technology and human moderators to “compare facial geometries from the video selfie to photos on the user’s profile,” Boyd said. Once the video is confirmed as authentic, a user gets a “Verified” badge on their Hinge profile.

The move comes after a recent WIRED story highlighting the proliferation of fake accounts on the Hinge dating app. These fake profiles are often peppered with glossy photos of attractive people, though there’s something off-putting about their perfection. The person has often “just joined” the dating app. Their descriptions of themselves or responses to prompts are nonsensical, a sign that a person may be using a translation app to try to connect with someone in their native language. And in many instances, the person on the other end of the fraudulent profile will urge their match to move the conversation off of the app—a strategy that allows them to maintain a dialogue even if the fraudster is booted off of Hinge.

By December, Selfie Verification should be available to all Hinge users worldwide, which includes people in the US, UK, Canada, India, Australia, Germany, France, and more than a dozen other countries.

“As romance scammers find new ways to defraud people, we are committed to investing in new updates and technologies that prevent harm to our daters,” Boyd said.

Hinge is one of many dating apps owned by Match Group, and it’s not the first to use a face recognition tool to try to spot fakes. Prior to this, Tinder and Plenty of Fish had photo verification tools. In August a spokeswoman from Match Group told WIRED that photographic verification would be coming to Hinge, OKCupid, and Match.com “in the coming months.”

Match Group says Hinge users will have the option to verify their profiles with a video selfie when the feature launches, and that it won’t be a requirement.

The company has also emphasized that it has a Trust & Safety team consisting of more than 450 employees who work across the company’s many dating apps, and that last year Match Group invested more than $125 million to build new technology “to help make dating safe.” Four years ago, it created an advisory council to come up with policies to prevent harassment, sexual assault, and sex trafficking.

It’s Really Me

The company’s rollout of video verification tools on Hinge are long overdue—and may not be foolproof. Maggie Oates, an independent privacy and security researcher who has also programmed a game about sex work and privacy called OnlyBans, says in an email that she strongly believes biometric authentication should be optional and incentivized in dating apps, but not required. A multi-pronged verification approach might be more effective, Oates says, with the added benefit of giving users options. “Not everyone is comfortable with biometrics. Not everyone has a driver’s license. Online identity verification is a really hard problem.”

And she believes that relying solely on facial recognition technology for profile verification will only last for so long.

It’s Time to Bring Back the AIM Away Message

It’s Time to Bring Back the AIM Away Message

In the beginning, there was AOL Instant Messenger. That wasn’t actually the beginning. Talkomatic, Compuserve’s CB Simulator, and Internet Relay Chat (IRC) all preceded it. But AIM was the beginning of something, a gateway to real-time, all-the-time internet communication for the normies.

You didn’t need to be a computer nerd to ride the AIM train. Your parents got the compact disc in the mail, you plugged your clear plastic corded phone into a modem connected to your Gateway 2000, and you were off. Rather, you were on. Very online, and unaware at the time that the portal would disappear behind you once you crossed through, that you would never again live a wholly offline life.

AIM, which launched 25 years ago this month, represented that moment for me. It propelled me into a universe of limitless pixels, endless distractions, and a penchant for bland screen names (my only embellishment was my basketball jersey number, tacked onto my initials). It was also a live social network. A digital door creaked open, and millions of us scrambled to our seats to see who had just signed on, who was down to chat.

Sometimes you had to step away. So you threw up an Away Message: I’m not here. I’m in class/at the game/my dad needs to use the comp. I’ve left you with an emo quote that demonstrates how deep I am. Or, here’s a song lyric that signals I am so over you. Never mind that my Away Message is aimed at you.

I miss Away Messages. This nostalgia is layered in abstraction; I probably miss the newness of the internet of the 1990s, and I also miss just being … away. But this is about Away Messages themselves—the bits of code that constructed Maginot Lines around our availability. An Away Message was a text box full of possibilities, a mini-MySpace profile or a Facebook status update years before either existed. It was also a boundary: An Away Message not only popped up as a response after someone IM’d you, it was wholly visible to that person before they IM’d you.

Nothing like this exists in our modern messaging apps. Oh fine, you’re going to insist I mention some of the messaging guardrails tech companies have rolled out in recent years. On iPhone and iPad, there’s “Do Not Disturb” and “Focus” mode, while Android OS supports “Do Not Disturb” as well as “Schedule Send,” which, as a Google spokesperson put it, “is great when you’re texting across time zones, such as when you want to send an early morning Happy Birthday to your friend in London.” And yes, you can “Mute Notifications” on WhatsApp.

The always-on workplace chat app Slack offers “Update Your Status,” the closest thing we have to Away Messages today. You can give fair warning that you’re Out of Office or slap a “sick” emoji on your profile. You can write “Writing, please DND,” because you’re once again behind on a deadline. This, it turns out, is an invitation to be disturbed anyway.

These are not guardrails. These are squishy orange cones that we all plow through, like 15-year-olds in driver’s ed. Even the names of these features—Focus, Schedule Send—are phrases born of a work-obsessed culture. Bring back the ennui, the poetry, the pink fonts, the tildes and asterisks.

What I’m reminiscing about is, of course, an entirely different technology protocol. There’s instant messaging, and there’s text messaging. Today the two are practically indistinguishable, but 25 years ago these experiences were disparate. AIM was a desktop client that sent bits of information to an internet server when you logged on, blasting your arrival to the folks on your Buddy List and displaying the same information to you when your friends logged on. It used a proprietary protocol called OSCAR, which stood for Open System for Communication in Realtime. Realtime meant live chat. Text messaging, on the other hand, referred to SMS, or Short Message Service. And this mostly happened on mobile devices connected to cellular networks.

Look Over Here, Kids, It’s the Metaverse

Look Over Here, Kids, It’s the Metaverse

Facebook may be mired in scandals at present, but today it attempted to shift the public’s attention towards the future—specifically, a future built around an even more ever-present Facebook.

At the company’s annual developer’s conference today, chief executive Mark Zuckerberg and Andrew Bosworth, the head of the company’s Reality Labs unit, laid out a broader vision for the “metaverse.” To fuel its next chapter, Facebook announced a series of updates to its Oculus VR and Spark AR platforms, part of an effort to entice developers to build more applications and features for Facebook’s metaverse. Zuckerberg also revealed that the company would be renamed Meta, emphasizing his virtual reality vision for the future.

“The next [internet] platform and medium will be even more immersive, an embodied internet where you’re in the experience, not just looking at it,” Zuckerberg said during the virtual presentation. He went on to say that in the metaverse, people will get together with friends and family to work, learn, shop, and play—things that people can obviously do today using 2D, flat screens like our laptops and smartphones, but that Facebook’s (Meta’s) vision of the metaverse goes beyond the way we’re experiencing things today.

For Facebook, building out the metaverse is just the next move in a years-long land grab for our online attention. For critics of the company, though, there might not be anything more alarming than the idea of Facebook becoming synonymous with the next big phase of the internet, particularly as it grapples with both privacy and content moderation problems around the globe.

And Facebook staking its claim in the metaverse also raises questions about how open this next iteration of the internet may be; even as Facebook calls out other tech companies like Apple for their closed ecosystems, the social media company continues to show off experiences that are exclusive to its own Oculus virtual reality devices.

The Meta Deets

Person using AR interactive UI

Scrolling through the metaverse.

Courtesy of Meta

Zuckerberg, Bosworth, and a virtual parade of Facebook Reality Labs executives constructed a loose vision of the metaverse today, highlighting different elements—from app platforms to hand-gesture technology to prototypes of VR headsets and AR glasses—that will, they say, all eventually come together to create a new form of digital presence. This included an expansion of the Horizon Workrooms app, a kind of VR version of Zoom that Facebook demoed in August; a more social version of “Home” in the Oculus Quest VR headset, for interactions with friends in VR; some enhanced fitness features for the Oculus Quest; and support for some non-3D apps in Facebook’s virtual environments. The 2D app support is particularly noteworthy, though it’s hard to say how useful these apps will be until they’re widely available. But the idea is that even if you’re wearing a VR headset to collaborate with remote coworkers, you won’t have to take it off to check Slack (or Instagram, if you’re slacking off). These apps will run as flat panels within the virtual environment.

Tesla Bot Takes Tech Demos to Their Logical Conclusion

Tesla Bot Takes Tech Demos to Their Logical Conclusion

The robot was not at all real. Or it was very real, depending on whether you believe realness is closely related to physiology or whether you think this whole reality is a simulation. Which is to say, the robot was actually a human cosplaying as a humanoid robot.

The robot shuffled on stage during Tesla’s AI Day yesterday afternoon, a three-hour demo of autonomous car features and slides titled “Multi-Scale Feature Pyramid Fusion.” The big news out of the event was a new custom AI chip for data centers, and a supercomputing system called Dojo. Later in the livestream, Tesla founder and chief executive officer Elon Musk revealed that Tesla was working on this robot. People tuned in, because Musk. Then they laughed, because of the robot. But the joke was on them.

After first appearing stiff-armed and arthritic, the robot broke into dance. The fan fiction came to a fast end. Only a real live human could do the Charleston with such fluidity. The fabric of the robot’s all-white jumpsuit, with its accidentally stylish boat neck, creased as the robot danced. The human robot was having fun. Too much fun. (“Is the robot … Grimes?” I asked an editor.) Musk shooed them off the stage.

“The robot will be real,” Musk told the AI Day audience, in between his trademark titters. “We’ll probably have a prototype sometime next year that basically looks like this.” The demo was bad—transparently so. Musk was trolling us. The not-yet-a-robot was a stunt, a way to get people who normally wouldn’t pay attention to Tesla AI Day talking about Tesla AI Day. And the joke was layered: Implicit in Musk’s future assurance was the fact that the humanoid robot is not at all presently real, even if the human inside the robot outfit was; once the humanoid robot is real, it will obviate the humans who built it.

“This will be quite profound,” Musk said. “Because if you say, What is the economy? It is, at the foundation, it is labor.”

Will the humanoid robot ever ship, with its screenface, AI chip, eight cameras, 40 electromechanical actuators, and fit-model proportions? Who knows. Musk’s bizarre demo laid bare the truth of many new tech demos: They are a ruse, a storyboarded vision of the future held together by digital duct tape.

Anyone who has traveled to the annual CES in Las Vegas fully understands this. Reality is suspended amidst the rolling displays, intelligent exoskeletons, cleaning robots, and self-driving vehicles that all seem to work so well but rarely sell. In 2016, Magic Leap released a videoclip of a virtual whale splashing through a gymnasium floor, set to the score of oohs and ahhs of children in the stands. This, too, was a ruse. Samsung has shown DSLR photos in faked demonstrations of its “smartphone cameras.” Apple’s more recent tech demos are more subtly artificial—suggesting a lifestyle that only a smallish percentage of the world’s population can maintain, promising seamless continuity between gadgets—but the very first iPhone demo was a total charade.

Tesla’s own electric Cybertruck, first unveiled in November of 2019, had a smashing first demo. Its release has been delayed until 2022.

Of course, some of these products actually do ship, and at the same time every year, pandemics and global chip shortages aside. That’s rarely what tech makers are selling you on in demos, though, the same way a friend trying to set you up on a date wouldn’t lead with, “They’re so punctual.”

They’re peddling the fantastic future, and, just maybe, the bridge that will cross the uncanny valley. They’re selling you on tech that will only deepen your sense of humanity, if you would only just embrace what they’re telling you. If only you got the joke. The dancing robot demo wasn’t real, but it will be. The robot human was real, but some day maybe they won’t be.


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The FTC Votes Unanimously to Enforce Right to Repair

The FTC Votes Unanimously to Enforce Right to Repair

During an open commission meeting Wednesday, the Federal Trade Commission voted unanimously to enforce laws around the Right to Repair, thereby ensuring that US consumers will be able to repair their own electronic and automotive devices.

The FTC’s endorsement of the rules is not a surprise outcome; the issue of Right to Repair has been a remarkably bipartisan one, and the FTC itself issued a lengthy report in May that blasted manufacturers for restricting repairs. But the 5 to 0 vote signals the commission’s commitment to enforce both federal antitrust laws and a key law around consumer warranties—the Magnuson Moss Warranty Act—when it comes to personal device repairs.

The vote, which was led by new FTC chair and known tech critic Lina Khan, also comes 12 days after President Joe Biden signed a broad executive order aimed at promoting competition in the US economy. The order addressed a wide range of industries, from banks to airlines to tech companies. But a portion of it encouraged the FTC, which operates as an independent agency, to create new rules that would prevent companies from restricting repair options for consumers.

“When you buy an expensive product, whether it’s a half-a-million-dollar tractor or a thousand-dollar phone, you are in a very real sense under the power of the manufacturer,” says Tim Wu, special assistant to the president for technology and competition policy within the National Economic Council. “And when they have repair specifications that are unreasonable, there’s not a lot you can do.”

Wu added that Right to Repair has become a “visceral example” of the enormous imbalance between workers, consumers, small businesses, and larger entities.

Fixed Position

The FTC vote is another win for the Right to Repair movement in the US, which has been led by advocacy groups like the US Public Interest Research Group, as well as private companies like iFixit, the California-based company that sells gadget repair kits and publishes repair manuals for DIY tinkerers. Proponents of the Right to Repair have long argued that consumers should have access to the tools, parts, documentation, and software required to fix the products they own, whether it’s a smartphone or a tractor.

These groups are also quick to call out instances in which large manufacturers block or limit options for independent product repairs, or force consumers to go directly back to a manufacturer, who then charges a premium for a fix. And it’s not just a matter of fixing a broken glass back on a smartphone, or repairing an impossibly small smartwatch: During the height of the coronavirus pandemic in the spring of 2020, medical device engineers began speaking out on the dangers of not having access to repair tools for critical devices, such as ventilators, during times of crisis.

As more products are designed with internet connectivity—from smartphones to refrigerators to cars—the issue of repair rights has become increasingly complicated. Repair advocates say consumers should have access to all of the data that their personal devices collect, and that independent repair shops should have access to the same software diagnostic tools that “authorized” shops have.

“I urge the FTC to use its rulemaking authority to reinforce basic consumer and private property rights, and to update it for the digital age, as manufacturers seek to turn hundreds of millions of owners of technology into tenants of their own property,” said Paul Roberts, the founder of Securepairs.org, during a public comments section of today’s FTC meeting. “A digital Right to Repair is a vital tool that will extend the life of electronic devices.”