Truepic fights photo fraud on apps like Tinder and Airbnb

“Is that what they really look like?” “Did they Photoshop the pics of the house we’re renting?” “Is this actually what I’m buying or just a photo ripped off the Internet?” These are the questions Truepic wants to answer with the startup’s photo verification technology. Today Truepic unveils its SDK for embedding its tech in other products plus its own consumer app. Truepic is also announcing its $1.75 million seed round to fuel its hope of becoming “the world’s first digital photo notary”.

Here’s how it works. You either snap a photo (or video) inside Truepic’s consumer iOS or Android app, or within the app of a client that’s embedded its SDK. Truepic’s patented technology verifies that the image hasn’t been altered or edited, and watermarks it with a time stamp, geocode, and other metadata. Truepic stores a version of the photo in its digital vault and assigns it a six-digit code and URL for retrieving it. If necessary, blockchain technology can be used to create distributed copies of the data.

Users can then export the verified and watermarked version of their image for use wherever they want, and viewers can visit the imprinted URL to double-check it with Truepic’s database. Truepics can be used on dating sites like Tinder to prove this is what you really look like, on a home rental site like Airbnb to show people exactly what the place they’re staying looks like, on an ecommerce site like eBay to prove the condition of what you’re selling, or to submit a verified image of damage for an insurance claim.

Clients can pay a monthly fee to build Truepic’s lightweight Enterprise SDK into their apps so the whole capture, verification, and sharing process happens within their product. Truepic currently has a dozen beta customers for the SDK ranging from Fortune 500 insurance carriers to top beauty brands. While Airbnb and Tinder aren’t formal customers yet, people are already uploading Truepics on these sites and they could benefit from becoming SDK clients.

We are way past the tipping point in terms of how easily things are faked online and the loss of authenticity and reality in favor of perfection” says Truepic co-founder and COO Craig Stack. Photoshop, Instagram, Snapchat, FaceTune, and Meitu have made photo editing a common practice. “Businesses need a solution to combat the rampant falsification of images online, and consumers want to share authentic photos that others will believe are the real thing” Stack explains. “That’s Truepic – we’re truly the anti-filter.”

Stack was an investor in insurance companies and vacation rental startup Flipkey that was acquired by TripAdvisor. This exposed him to the problem of faked images, leading him to found Truepic. He brought on Jeff McGregor to be CEO, who had founded payment app Dash and sold it to Reserve.

Together they raised a $1.75 million seed round from Jeffrey Parker of FirstCall and Thomson Financial, Andrew Flilpowski of Platinum Technology and HR startup SilkRoad, and Harvard Business School professor and VC William Sahlman. That money will go to hiring and getting the enterprise SDK to public launch as Truepic ramps up sales.

Truepic will have to fend off other startups, though McGregor believes those who tried before launched too early before photo editing became an epidemic. There are some tools like Image Edited, FotoForensics, and ImgOps for uploading a photo to see if it’s been doctored or floating around the web, but they’re all very basic. 

While large potential clients could build their own in-house system, and some are, he says “companies like the ‘cover your ass’ aspect of Truepic as an outside provider — they can point to an independent third-party who certified an image rather than having to back it up themselves.” They’d prefer to just pay a monthly fee and leave it to experts.

If the startup can convince consumers that they get more dates, rentals, and sales when they use Truepic, it could grow its footprint as the watermarks serve as a viral growth driver. As for enterprise clients, they could roll out Truepic to boost confidence of all their users or reserve it as a premium feature.

If you think we’re already at the height of the photo editing craze, just wait for augmented reality to pick up steam. Snapchat’s filters can already smooth people’s skin and make them more beautiful automatically. AR could let anyone, even without Photoshop skills, create masterful forgeries. Faking can be fun. But it can also impede serious business, causing people to be ripped off or catfished. When it matters, this verification technology could distinguish the Truepics from the lies.