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The Future of Data Integrity

Challenge Disinformation – Data Origin

September 01, 2020

The Trail to the Origin

Last week we started to lay out and examine the challenge of disinformation spreading and introduced an idea to counteract this trend. By securing data origins and verifying them we have laid the conceptual foundation to further explore this idea. This week the focus will lie on further exploring the origin and what it has to do with a ‘source of truth’.

Content creators have varying reasons to want to prove their creations haven’t been altered or tampered with. Photographers for one want to be able to definitively prove their content to be the first and original one. This can not only help in cases of questioning the creator but also saves them from having manipulated content ascribed to them. Moreover, having a way for viewers to verify the integrity countering disinformation and expose selective editing as well.
Text-based content, for example, interviews or research papers, is more difficult to safeguard. As this type of content is often taken apart and repurposed to support disingenuous claims that the creator did not intend. Smaller subsections defined by the creator can also be provable to keep decontextualization from spreading a false message.
Video content would be the most difficult to safeguard as most often small clips can be taken out for an even worse outcome than text. However, similar to text, video content can be made provable clip by clip in addition to the entire video.

A Source of Truth

Establishing the origin as a source of verifiable truth would be the first step to keep original content from becoming disinformation. The power to tell ‘what was first’ is something of great importance for transparency and integrity.
The next step is for further use of the content to always refer back to the original and seal this step. This would establish an easily trackable trail to find the original. They then can compare it with what the recipient saw, read, or heard.
Having continuously verifiable data empowers both creator and recipient to affirm and confirm its integrity. Changes that are not referring to the original become suspicious while those that track the change demonstrate confidence which can easily put to the test. This helps distinguish between open and honest editing and covert manipulation.

To empower both honest editors and unknowing recipients to verify the integrity of the data the mechanism used must be portable. For verification to be portable a shareable digital proof that can be attached to or shared along with the original data is necessary. This enables anyone authorized by the proof holder to verify independently.
Further, the mechanism would have to be one that is not based on subjectively selected authorities but neutral objective one, as seen in mathematics. It needs to be mathematically provable that data hasn’t been tampered with.
By setting such standards, every participant, be it editors or recipients, would be able to verify the integrity independently without the need for a third-party arbiter. Further, editors are able to distinguish between the original and manipulated data. The recipient would also be empowered to question information critically and introduce necessary skepticism through increasing accountability standards.

Next week we will continue to examine the issue and go in-depth into the most disputed environment: social media. If you can’t wait you can download the entire paper here.