Hornet aims to stop catfishing with badge of authenticity

In a bid to tackle fake profiles and fraudsters, a popular gay dating app, Hornet, plans to offer a badge of authenticity to identify authentic members. Hornet will be the first of the major gay social networks to let people earn this badge of authenticity or anything similar.

The app will use algorithms to decide who gets a badge, rather than asking its users to provide copies of their ID. The algorithms will evaluate how people behave on the app over time. Profiles that are judged to be genuine will display a “Hornet badge” as an indicator of trustworthiness. The company said it would not disclose exactly how the algorithm works because that might help catfish-ers work out how to trick the system. Hornets chief executive Christof Wittig told the BBC: “We look at people and how they earn trust while they interact with the community. It requires people to be authentic and interact.”

Hornet combines the social elements of apps such as Instagram with the meet-up aspect of apps such as Grindr. The “verification” system will analyze how people use those features, to weigh up whether the activity is consistent with genuine users. Mr Wittig stressed that the algorithm would not look at the contents of private messages. And because many people in countries with anti-LGBT laws do not use a selfie as their profile picture, the system will not involve any image analysis of profile photos either.

BBC went on to ask whether a catfish profile earn a “Hornet badge” and add a mark of authenticity to their fake profile and in response Mr Wittig stated, “In theory yes, there will always be that one person who will put this super extra effort in, and there will always be some that fall for it.” “But with this system, the amount of work versus the probability of reward changes. We are making being a fake profile very costly. They can no longer do it at scale.”

While the badge eliminates most of the fear that we are speaking to a fake individual, it does pose the potential to scare off those who prefer to remain anonymous, for whatever reason. BBC asked Mr Wittig about members who do not want a “Hornet badge” because they are worried about being exposed for using an LGBT app. In response, Mr Wittig said it would not be possible to opt out of the system but he said members would still be able to be discreet about their identity. “People in some countries don’t put a face picture up because it’s so dangerous, but they can still be verified by the system,” Mr Wittig told the BBC.