April 21, 2011, 9:00 AM — You know who you are, and I know who I am. But how do I know you’re really who you say you are (and vice versa) when we’re connecting on Facebook, or doing a transaction on eBay, or chatting on a dating profile, or even applying for a job online?
It’s not an easy question to answer. In the age of the Internet, almost no information can be fully trusted. Spoofing identities is childs’ play – and for some, part of the Net’s appeal is the ability to operate semi- or completely anonymously. But there are times when that just won’t fly.
And that is where tru.ly comes in. This startup promises to prove that you are who you say you are by verifying your identity against government databases. Signing up for tru.ly is free, though a custom URL with your name on it costs $5 a year. More premium services will be available down the line.
To verify my identity I had to submit my name, email address, last four digits of my social security number, my birthday, and my permanent address. The system is pretty strict. Entering “Dan Tynan,” for example, failed to work. I had to enter my name as it appears on my birth certificate.
(And if someone steals your information and attempts to set up a tru.ly account in your name? Co-founder David Gordon says they have algorithms in place that can detect fraudulent signups, though he declined to share the details. He also says that if it comes down to it, his team can call you via Skype and manually verify your identity.)
Download a browser plug in (Chrome or Firefox only) and you can tell which of your Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter friends are “tru.ly Verified,” and which aren’t. If their profile says they are tru.ly Verified, you can click a link to view their tru.ly profile, where they can reveal as much of their basic info (address, phone, birthday, education, resume) as they wish.
If you want to see some of the information marked “Protected,” you can send them a request. They can unlock that information just for you, if they feel like it. If they aren’t verified, you can request they do so by clicking the tru.ly link on Facebook, Twitter, or Linked In.
It’s a very neat idea, when it works. Of course, it doesn’t always work. In fact, using the browser plug ins to view people’s identities or request verifications worked less than half the time.