Image by Bruno /Germany from Pixabay

Researchers from École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) are proposing a novel way to keep fake accounts and misinformation online at bay. A fundamental issue, according to Dr. Bryan Ford, Associate Professor at the EPFL computer science department, is that we have lost the ability to keep people accountable online. This is because computer networks are simply unable to differentiate between real and fake people – or even automated bots online.

“Most fake news and misinformation is not due to a lot of different people, explains Ford. “Rather, it is a few misbehaving people who can amplify their voice by hundreds of times.”

The idea is to link online tokens, similar to those used in the crypto-currency world, to real life persons. They have verified accounts while remaining anonymous. These tokens would be unique, non-replicable, and would be linked to a real-life individual by way of ongoing, in-person events that Ford calls ‘pseudonym parties’.

Subscribe to our Newsletter!

Your weekly innovation overview Every sunday the best articles of the week in your inbox.

    In these, people would gather at a specific place and time to get a unique digital token that would be registered to their use. Once registered, they can use their token key to verify their social media accounts and online presence.

    Privacy and security

    Among the more practical uses for the tokens is in their ability to anonymize one’s online presence while still staying accountable to servers. This is done by a public/private key pair where the private key is linked to the individual by way of a digital token and the corresponding public key is kept on an online ledger.

    The effect for individual privacy is that the key would anonymize one’s online footprint and not leave information for servers to pick up across different platforms.

    “Even if they collude and sell your information to each other,” explains Ford.

    For security, it ties the key to an individual which can be accessed publicly. It does not mean that a server has your information, but it does mean that it can take steps to limit the ability of individuals to spread misinformation or abuse others.

    Pseudonym parties

    To verify individuals, Ford proposes, ideally, local events that people can briefly attend to get their digital token and continue to be verified. This has many challenges, including that the tokens would have to expire to keep individuals from accumulating them – meaning that people would have to attend the events regularly.

    “Online, nobody is a real human forever, unfortunately,” says Ford.

    Some challenges already have answers, while the rest are the subject of ongoing research.

    Read about how online profiles can be bought and sold on online markets.

    Support us!

    Innovation Origins is an independent news platform that has an unconventional revenue model. We are sponsored by companies that support our mission: to spread the story of innovation. Read more.

    At Innovation Origins, you can always read our articles for free. We want to keep it that way. Have you enjoyed our articles so much that you want support our mission? Then use the button below:

    Doneer

    Personal Info

    About the author

    Author profile picture Originally from Canada, Alex recently finished his MA in journalism and media studies from the University of Groningen. He loves explaining complicated ideas in easy to understand language and interviewing the great minds behind those ideas. Outside of writing, he can be found playing sports or daydreaming about surfing.