This article was edited by SPRITE+ Research Associate Dmitry Dereshev, with written responses and edits from Director of Regulatory & Policy Julie Dawson.
The spotlight today is on one of the SPRITE+ project partners - Yoti. I have recently interviewed Yoti's Director of Regulatory & Policy Julie Dawson, and asked her to talk a bit about her role and Yoti's connection to SPRITE+.
How would you describe your job to a 12-year-old?
My role at Yoti is to help consumers, organisations and regulators trust Yoti and get them comfortable with our way of letting people prove age or identity face to face or online. Being able to trust who you are dealing with is really important, both face to face and online. That is what Yoti does - we give people a way to prove who they are, with their phone.
We give people a way to prove who they are - with their phone.
Yoti is a platform, that allows people to create a reusable digital identity using their phone that they can use anywhere that has integrated Yoti. Yoti enables businesses to verify consumers’ identities using biometrics and government-issued IDs.
Could you describe what you do during a typical workday?
That’s really hard, as we work with lots of sectors and across many countries. The platform spans identity verification, age verification, e-signatures and biometric authentication.
My role spans 3 key areas:
I work with experts from the human rights world, consumer rights, last mile tech accessibility (e.g. if you do not have a government-issued ID, a necessary device, or cannot use widespread technologies) and online harms. I need to keep abreast of quite a few areas: our new product developments internally, consider new accreditations and standards we may work with, the markets where we are operating in with my colleagues in marketing and partnerships.
With my legal colleagues, we review amendments to legislation & guidance around proving identity and e-signatures, monitor how that is changing and where the regulations may be moving. I am asked to represent Yoti on quite a few boards and industry groups - so I often attend roundtables and events on data responsibility, ethics, online harms, fraud prevention. No one day is the same.
Could you describe an interesting project that you’ve recently worked on?
Its hard to pick one - in terms of current challenge, at present our focus is on how we can support health workers and volunteers to get screened and onboarded, so they can support the current crisis. We’ve offered our support free of charge over the period.
We’re trying to encourage governments to bring in changes to their Right to Work guidance, as the use of digital identity can clearly both streamline document checks and onboarding and increase the robustness of those checks as well as reducing contact and contagion.
At present our focus is on how we can support health workers and volunteers to get screened and onboarded, so they can support the current crisis.
Age checking with physical ID documents today in supermarkets, convenience stores and on the doorstep is increasing the risk of contact, contagion and the already high documented levels of abuse (verbal, physical and racial) towards retail staff. So likewise, we’ve been alerting regulators to the risk and to digital age assurance solutions.
Two other areas, I’m really excited by in terms of their potential to support the online harms prevention, protect the vulnerable are:
What training/experience did you have at the start of your career?
I studied management and languages, did an MBA, a Masters in Marketing, another in governance. I’d done volunteering projects in France, Germany, Chile.
How did you get into your current role?
I met Robin Tombs, the Founder of Yoti, when I had set up a social enterprise for STEM (science, technology, engineering & maths) via the foundation he had set up to help young people bridge the gap between education and employment. Initially I supported the early research working on the Yoti proposition; it grew into a full time role.
What do you wish you'd known when you started your career?
I wish I’d known the ‘fail fast’ adage and the concept of ‘life hacking’ to get more quickly to a role and sector that really gives fulfilment. When I started out working, it was common for people to spend their career in just one or two organisations. Over time the concept of the portfolio career and having several parallel occupations or interests has become mainstream. In my opinion, it is hard to know your strengths and weaknesses when you’re starting out. I think that the volunteering roles that I did, did help me somewhat.
I wish I’d known the ‘fail fast’ adage and the concept of ‘life hacking’ to get more quickly to a role and sector that really gives fulfilment.
I was fortunate to be able to study alongside working, was sponsored to do an Executive MBA which opened many doors and made me see the value of developing a wide network. I had some mentors who asked tough questions and gave honest feedback; who made me reflect about what I enjoyed and what I didn’t, where I thought I’d added value. It sounds simple, but knowing your own values and working preferences is crucial. Then you can align them.
What would you recommend to people who want to follow in your footsteps?
I think that being open to new opportunities in large and small companies, and continuing to learn through formal and informal training can open many doors.
I’ve worked in many different areas of the tech industry and taken quite an unusual path. I started out as a telecoms journalist, then worked in marketing and strategy, then operations and now a hybrid role spanning policy and regulation. I’ve worked in a number of sectors - the press, IT networking, consulting, financial services. I set up an auction management , worked with an online donations platform, set up a social enterprise and now work with a digital identity platform.
Along the way I’ve been a trustee for a national charity supporting 4 million young people aged 12-24 (Youthnet, now themix.org). I’ve supported STEM and kids coding initiatives. Lately I’ve been asked to take part in a number of oversight boards and trade bodies.
What troubles did you have progressing through your career?
Juggling work, health, and a growing family is a challenge and there is no denying it!
Travelling extensively can take a toll. Flexible ways of working are now thankfully much more accepted.
What one stereotype would like to dispel about your job or industry?
‘Digital identity can be seen as a tool for individual empowerment, providing universal access to services, rebalancing the current digital and data paradigm in favour of the consumer or citizen. It can also be seen as a commercial or Governmental tool for surveillance, control and social credit monitoring.’ The Future of Digital Identity by Future Agenda, author Robin Pharoah
Digital Identity is an industry not many people understand fully, yet it is a topic with wide reaching implications for society.
How would you describe your company in relation to SPRITE+?
We’re one of the project partners so aim to support where we can.
How do you hope to benefit from working with SPRITE+ network?
The key words from SPRITE+ pretty much sum up what we’re about ‘Security, Privacy, Identity, Trust in the Digital Economy’. So we’d like to both evidence this and learn from others and invite scrutiny.
Which of the SPRITE+ Challenge Themes can you relate to from the job role that you do, or from your organisation as a whole?
They all resonate.
Digital Vulnerabilities - at Yoti we’re looking at how to protect individuals and organisations from harms and/or make them resilient in the face of harm, through our identity app, e signatures approach, verifiable claims work, enabling secure polling, data minimisation, looking at pseudonymity, anonymity.
Accountability and Ethics in a Digital Ecosystem - we’re looking at person and non person entities and how individuals peer to peer, organisations and government can verify identities.
Digital Technologies, Power and Control - we’re looking at how to support accessibility, people with documents from around the world, people without documents, devices, with a range of disabilities...
How does it impact your job role, and your organisation?
When we set out to build a cross-sector, mobile-friendly, and consumer-friendly identity verification system, we laid down 7 key principles from the outset to develop Yoti in the right way:
From these principles, we have built and continue to build our ethical framework.