Google unveils solution for Africa’s digital identity snags

With online digital identity hurdles hurting Africa’s quest for personal credible profile data in the interwebs, internet search giant Google has unveiled a new mobile-only feature that could help solve the crisis experienced in many states in the continent, by making people more discoverable while warding off impersonation.

Dubbed People Cards, the innovation will allow the more than 500 million internet users in the continent to create their identity on Google Search in the form of an online profile card that includes all the details they want the world know about them.

“Whether they’re content creators, business professionals, or users who just want to stand out from the crowd, having an online presence will give users more visibility,” Mr Olumide Balogun, head of consumer apps, Sub Saharan Africa at Google told Afcacia.

According to a recent research study by Google and the International Finance Corporation (IFC), there are 520 million netizens in Africa, with 60 per cent of them accessing the internet through their phones.

However, African governments have always struggled to execute a digital identity system with the potential of precluding online criminal activities as internet becomes more accessible and affordable across the continent.

Mr Balogun noted that the new initiative seeks to help the continent leapfrog this snag, not only for people without a formal address but also those who share a name with many others.

“This is an easy way to create or distinguish their presence on Search. It will organise information and make it more useful and accessible on smartphones.”

Anyone with a Google account can create a People Card by simply searching for their name and tapping the “add me to Search” prompt.

This will lead them through a simple process to add a photo, description, links to social media profiles and other information that they’d like others to know about them.

“However, this does not apply to social media parody accounts or those with online pseudo names on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or Instagram. This will help eliminate abuse of the platform,” added Mr Balogun.

For the initial card creation, a unique phone number is required, and only one profile card is allowed per Google account and mobile phone number. Users can edit information as they desire and Google will be relying on user honesty to create profiles that reflect their true description.

But to help obliterate online criminal activities, users can report abusive content, false information, fraud or impersonation attempts through a feedback feature directly from the platform.

“We built this feature for the millions of influencers, content creators, entrepreneurs, self- employed individuals, freelancers, or anyone else out there who wants to be discovered but this visibility should not be abused. The system has a mechanism for users to flag suspected criminal activities. We also have second-level checks for profiles,” Mr Balogun expounded about the solution that was also launched in India on August 11.

Alongside the platform, Google has introduced other features such as Job Search Experience, which helps people find jobs, while Health Symptom Search makes it easier for users to explore health conditions related to symptoms of various maladies.

Google said in a statement that it used Big Data analytics to create the solution for Africa, further highlighting the relevance of the deployment of modern technologies to bolster its market grip.

“A critical part of creating for Africa means building in line with the insights we are seeing from the region. We see that people in Africa want a search tool that reflects their real environment and also supports them to succeed as they go about their everyday activities.”

With Kenya entering the final steps in issuing Huduma identity cards that merge all information about every citizen, local experts are upbeat that People Cards could play a vital role in helping the government stamp out fraudulent activities that arise from online impersonation.

“We have seen a lot of fraud as more people join the internet. Online thugs in Kwale purporting to be credible car dealers in Japan have conned many people out of their hard earned cash. Through online identity verification that includes seller location and business history, this vice can be controlled,” said Boniface Mutunga, an expert in international trade and finance.

According to Timothy Oriedo, the chief executive of Predictive Analytics Lab, the solution will come in handy for thousands of business people who want to make faster decisions about services provided by individual contractors.

“It will be useful for both parties. Skilled people looking for corporates to sell their services or products to and vice versa. This is what Big Data can do for you – help you choose the right contractor faster,” he said.

A survey by global cloud service firm Akamai shows that global internet traffic has grown by 30 per cent this year, taking 346 million people online for the first time over the past year, with the growth being spurred by the Covid-19 crisis that pushed more users and businesses online.

“More than 4.57 billion people around the world now use the internet, and that accounts for close to 60 per cent of the world’s total population,” the study indicates. That means at least 11 new users started to use the internet for the first time every second since July 2019.

As more people enjoy internet services, Google believes its identity solution will be paramount to unlocking hidden treasures in the digital realm.