Trustworthy, verified photos could soon be part of dating apps, e-commerce, and more

Are the photos of the property you’re browsing on Airbnb real or fake? What about the glam shots of a potential suitor on a dating app? Or the images of secondhand goods you’re perusing on eBay?

Right now, it’s hard to know if you’re being catfished or misled, since there are few mechanisms to verify images that you’re looking at online. That’s why the content provenance startup Truepic is launching a software development kit (SDK) that will enable any app with an internal camera to authenticate a photo’s metadata, including a time stamp and geolocation, as the image is being captured. The SDK is part of the company’s plan to scale up its technology, which creates an indelible record on the blockchain for each image taken through a Truepic-enabled camera.

Powering the launch is a $26 million series B raise that brings together some of the heaviest hitters in the burgeoning world of digital content provenance. The aim is to combat the spread of fake media by embedding images and video with metadata.

The round was led by Microsoft’s venture fund M12 with a strategic investment from Adobe. Both companies, along with Truepic, are leaders of a cross-industry initiative called the Coalition for Content Authenticity and Provenance (C2PA), which has created technical standards for authenticated metadata that can be recognized across the web ecosystem. Sony Innovation Fund by IGV, Hearst Ventures, and individuals from Stone Point Capital also participated in the raise.

The SDK will be compatible with the C2PA standards, and will help bring Truepic’s verification technology to a much broader audience. Currently, the company provides it to about 100+ clients, mostly within financial services, including Equifax, Ford, and TransUnion. Truepic’s revenue grew 300% in 2020. The company also has a partnership with Qualcomm: The chipmaker is integrating Truepic’s Foresight tech into the Snapdragon 888 5G mobile platform so that Qualcomm-powered phones have the native capacity to take Truepic-secured images and videos. In addition, Truepic has provided grants to human rights organizations and citizen journalists to use its technology for documentation of abuses in places like Syria.

But it has yet to crack the larger ecosystems of photo sharing on social media, e-commerce, dating apps, home rental services, and other consumer websites, where fraud, misinformation, and manipulation via images are rampant.”The Qualcomm work informed us that doing a software SDK would be the fastest route to creating impact,” Truepic CEO Jeff McGregor says.

McGregor believes that the company’s SDK will make it feasible for large consumer tech brands to offer their users a secure, verifiable camera. He says Truepic has already heard from 60 companies that are interested in using the SDK, and that there will be “flagship applications” using the technology by next year. McGregor isn’t yet disclosing who Truepic’s initial partners will be.

“Our best-case scenario and the longer horizon goal is really to power trusted photo capture over the entire internet—every smartphone, every application—and to resolve what we view internally as one of the most critical issues facing trust online,” McGregor says.

He’s referring to what’s called the liar’s dividend, where bad actors use the possibility that something could be fake to undermine all trust in what’s real—a challenge that’s risen with the proliferation of cheaply manipulated images and the increasing technical capacity of algorithmically manipulated images.

“The idea of losing all accountability through digital photos and videos is a scary thing for society,” he says. “Proving what’s real [will be] a real counterbalance to that.”

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