Monday, August 6, 2018

Truepic

Diplomat turned entrepreneur, Mounir Ibrahim is all about translating experiences in his journey so far into making meaningful change through tech. Here is his story.

The beginning
Mounir used to be a diplomat with the US Department of State, for almost ten years. He mostly focused on Middle Eastern issues, and was posted in Damascus in 2010, a year before the Arab spring began. Mounir held the portfolio of a political officer, so his work centered around civil society organizations, individuals, NGOs, and on issues like religious freedoms, human rights and the freedom of expression, among other things. 

In the early days of the Arab Spring, he was literally in the heart of what was to be  one of the most brutal conflicts in modern times. Mounir used to see peaceful protests being dispersed with violence, and see people being beaten lifeless - possibly even to death. He saw people running away from the scene when things got violent. and was also, at one point, forced to run away to avoid harm. As everything unfolded,  Mounir couldn't help but notice how central the internet and social media were to all the protest movements throughout the middle east.  While the internet helped gather people, it also allowed Society to become polarized very quickly, through the digital means. People couldn't necessarily discern fact from fiction online, and this happened rather quickly in the Middle East. On the contrary, in the West, particularly in the US, this transition took place much later - and he didn't really see it until the elections in 2016. Up until then, you largely saw internet fraud used to perpetuate fraud. 

His career in the government led him to appreciate the importance of authentication online. Without authentication, it is easy for fraudsters and bad actors to polarize society, play on emotions and manipulate the internet for ulterior motives. 

Looking for the truth
While still  with US State Department, based in NYC, Moujnir served at the United Nations, representing the US Government.  He used to cover a range of issues, particularly concerning Syria and Burma. At the time, the UN was often presented with a range of photographs of events purportedly happening in Syria, Burma, and elsewhere, but too often other countries and critics did not consider the information simply because it was digital - from a smartphone.  Critics would argue the UN Security Council cannot consider digital photos because it cannot establish if they are authentic. It was a convenient excuse for people who did not want to admit reality. 

Around this time, Mounir met with the founders of Truepic after the first seed round was through. The goal, at the time for Truepic, and in many ways continues to be, to return authenticity back to the internet; it targeted the insurance industry and other private sector areas as entry points for its technology.  Truepic's technology is used to counter fraudulent arguments, transactions, and claims. Truepic is really versatile, in that sense. When the goal is to authenticate images, you can really use it anywhere - if you want to either document stories, or if you want to authenticate someone's photograph in an online dating setting. 

Truepic
The app is free to download from either the iStore, or the Google Playstore. It is completely free. One simply gets to sign up using any email ID, and can take pictures. When pictures are taken, the user then determines their choice vis-a-vis the GPS location services on the phone - which is where you can choose the level of GPS detection. Truepic does not sell any information for analytics and its business model is pretty simple. It offers the app for free for citizen use and offers priced and customized versions to private businesses, to fund our business. Truepic also partners with non-profits for social good causes too. 

At the very heart of what Truepic does is building trust between people - and that can be true for anyone that's connected, really - be it individuals, or the government and a business establishment, or even the UN. Truepic has alot of users in India - especially now that it has a competition running in collaboration with the India Photography Awards, which is now calling for citizen-shot photographs documenting lives in cities, using Truepic as the provider. 


Truepic wants to present people with a free tool that can corroborate claims they see or chance upon. It wants to ensure that there are decreased levels of polarization with a heightened level of trust. Any conflict emanates from a place of mistrust that is exploited and manipulated online. Truepic hopes for a day where people don't just consume an image they receive - but instead, say, "Let me check if there's a TruePic of that, first, and then decide if I'll believe in its authenticity."