The college admissions scandal: until we rethink verification, fraud will remain a way of life
Earlier this week, news broke of a massive college admissions scam that implicates dozens of wealthy parents and other parties, exposing a web of corruption, bribery and falsified student information. While influence-peddling in higher education is nothing new, the depth and brazenness of the acts described are breathtaking, including bribes of up to $6 million and even an incident in which a student’s head was Photoshopped onto an athlete’s body.
Fake test scores, fake credentials, fake photographs might be headline news, but are any of us really surprised?
Everyday fraud: It’s simply not that difficult to falsify credentials.
This particular scandal is headline-grabbing because there are famous people involved and the specifics of the graft involved are fairly outlandish. But this scandal points to a much larger problem: it’s simply not that difficult to falsify qualifications. This problem extends far beyond academia and into the professional sphere; According to one report, some 85% of job applicants lie on their resumes. And it’s not just about people lying to other people; we have technologies like Photoshop that make it easier to falsify information. The website This Person Does Not Exist uses AI to generate endless fake faces; fakery is being taken to a whole new level, right in front of our eyes. Soon enough, we won’t even be able to trust our own eyes to differentiate what is real and what isn’t. Scams and deep fakes will become the new normal.
Building systems that value truth — and provide ways to verify trustworthiness in sophisticated, credible ways has never been more important.
Imagine, for example, an academic registry that could be accessed by students, administrators, college admissions offices, employers, and other relevant parties, each with their own access levels and desired functionality. In such a network, you would have an auditable, immutable record of specific academic achievements, athletic standings, attendance records or extracurricular details. Safely stored as metadata on a blockchain, verification of a student’s record would be a matter of one or two pings of the network. Due to the design of blockchains, this information would be prohibitively difficult to falsify or subvert.
Systems like this, if well-integrated, could even help to offload some of the more tedious data entry and manual grading work that occupies far too much of educators’ time as it is, while having the added benefit of disincentivizing falsification.
The ability to manipulate and fake information at scale is going to influence how we think about evidence and trust.
Consider how job search and hiring processes work today. The vetting process for most new hires hasn’t really changed in decades: Peruse the applicant’s CV, speak to a reference over the phone, and if everything sounds good, they’re in. No bribery required. We already have services like LinkedIn hooked up with thousands of employers; so much of the infrastructure is already built. What’s missing is the verification piece.
A protocol like Shyft Network can provide the extra layer needed for immutable credentials by leveraging proprietary blockchain technology. Users could get attested by a trusted entity or a Trust Anchor (such as their university or high school) as well as by other actors in the network, and own the individual rights to these attestations that can then be shared with third parties.
Imagine a platform like LinkedIn, except instead of 550 million people using possibly falsified credentials to seek out new opportunities, each claim made by an applicant was backed up by an unfalsifiable entry from the corresponding firm, school, or non-profit. This would eliminate the need for external checks because each claim would be easily verifiable and therefore inherently trustworthy. It goes without saying that such a process could save companies around the world millions of dollars currently spent on complex and repetitive hiring and recruitment practices — ultimately increasing HR efficiency.
Trust, but verify.
We’re heading toward a rude awakening as a society. The ability to manipulate and fake information at scale is going to influence how we think about evidence and trust. The alternative ahead of us is the complete breakdown of trust, and the cost of that is simply too high.
It’s not enough to punish a few bad actors; we have to actively safeguard the value of truth, reorient our institutions to behave accordingly and build technological proofs of veracity into the system. We already have the tools we need to counteract these trends. All that’s required is the will and the vision to implement verification technologies and processes at scale to combat fraud and to restore and verify trust.