Awards season is in full flow in Hollywood and one London tech company has been cast in a starring role.
Digiseq is helping Golden Globes organisers fight fraud by combating the prevalent problem of counterfeit awards.
It’s an issue that’s seen fake statues claiming to have been won by celebrities sold online, with unsuspecting buyers fleeced out of thousands of dollars.
But now there’s another way. Digiseq worked with the Golden Globes in January to help prove the provenance of the prizes handed out on the night.
The company teamed up with the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, using its tech to ensure each trophy was unique and authentic – a solution designed to put an end to the market for fakes.
“We developed the provenance service to identify an item and make sure that it always remains as that item, no matter how many times it changes hands or where it is – we can prove that the item is the same one that was created,” chief executive Terrie Smith (below) tells BusinessCloud.
“If somebody claimed they had a Golden Globe that belonged to Glenn Close, for example, we can absolutely prove whether it is or not.”
The technology works by writing provenance data into a near-field communication chip embedded into the Golden Globe. The 2019 awards ceremony was the first time Digiseq’s solution was put into use and, when winners came backstage to have their trophies engraved, Smith and her team were on hand to write the data stating the recipient, date and any other information remotely into the chip.
This year, the business provided the tech for organisers to do this themselves on the night, and provenance can be verified at any time afterwards with a simple tap of an NFC-enabled device.
Once the data was encoded into the chip, a mobile app was used to demonstrate the information locked into that award. “Jeff Bridges was very keen to learn more, and Elton John expressed an interest last year,” Smith reveals.
The work came about through Digiseq’s inclusion in New York-based accelerator R/GA Ventures, which helps data start-ups link up with clients. It was a high-profile stage for a product that has many potential uses, with counterfeiting a worldwide problem.
Take designer handbags, for example. “Some Gucci handbags have a chip in them but that chip is vulnerable because it’s not as secure as the technology we offer,” says Smith.
“We’re advocating to replace that chip with a more secure chip that you can write details on to such as where the bag was made, the colour, who the quality control manager was, which line it was on, etc – all sorts of information.
“That way the buyer can be assured that that bag is what it says it is, regardless of whether they bought it online or in a store.”
Artwork, luxury goods or wines, too, could be chipped using Digiseq’s technology. “You could very easily put a chip on to a bottle of vintage wine or whisky, moulded onto the bottle,” Smith says. “If the owner took it off or destroyed it, that would destroy the value – but while it’s on that proves that that’s the wine in that bottle.”
Pharmaceuticals too, is another interesting area where NFC chips could be useful, with fake medication common, even in pharmacies, Smith says. A chip could show the medication was produced in a particular factory, the name of the person who signed it off and the processes it has gone through to prove without a doubt it is the real deal.
“It’s about bringing the physical and the digital worlds together and potentially saving lives, in this instance,” Smith adds.
The business was co-founded by Smith and Colin Tanner after the pair had worked for the likes of Mastercard, Visa, Amex and Tesco. Smith was instrumental in delivering the MasterCard solution that supports Apple Pay, but both left their respective jobs over a frustration with the use of mobile phones for payments.
“People want to use a device to make payments but want to trust that it won’t run out of battery,” she says. “I truly believe that the mobile phone isn’t the be-all and end-all of life and I didn’t believe that Mastercard was willing to move beyond that.”
Digiseq began by allowing bank account holders to pay for goods using everyday accessories as if they were bank cards, whether they be bracelets, key fobs, rings or watches, for example – devices that don’t require batteries.
“We created the ability to deliver your own card into your own IoT device, regardless of what it is as long as it has the right chip in it,” Smith says. “We believe that consumers want the choice of where and when and how they pay, and that they want to use something other than a mobile phone.
“These devices don’t need a battery to make them effective and that’s a real winner because you can never trust that your phone is going to be on.”
In 2019, Cambridge fashion brand DressCode introduced the CashCuff: smart shirts with Digiseq’s NFC chips embedded in the cuff which enable wearers to use their wrist to make contactless payments.
There are many other ways the tech could improve experiences for other users. “A person at a festival could have a wristband with a chip embedded in it to enable them to easily make payments while they’re there,” Smith says.
Banks in the UK, Netherlands, Austria, Germany and Nordics are already using Digiseq’s tech, as well as India and the US. Plans are afoot to introduce it in Australia, with users offered it as a service on their devices.
Smith herself uses it on six or seven different devices and says the ease is much more pleasant than standing in a queue while a customer finds the relevant payment app on their mobile phone. The UK may need to catch up on the rest of the world, however.
“Growth has been a lot more global than we expected, less UK and more European,” she says. “The Europeans seem much more prepared to make contactless payments on their wearables.”
While payments and provenance make up both arms of the business, she believes provenance may accelerate in growth at a faster rate due to the number of potential applications and the way online counterfeiting is growing.
The business is currently in the process of raising just under £1m investment, which will be spent on sales and marketing. Challenges include getting people to understand the complexities of what the business does from a security perspective, she says.
“People think all we’re doing is delivering data over the air but the process actually involves encrypting, making sure we have the right data for the right chips, and there’s a huge security process goes on,” she says.
“For example, we have to have our data centre locked and secured, and it’s an ex-military nuclear bunker, Ash Radar Station in Kent, because it has to have that level of security to have that chain of trust.”