Age verification taps blockchain to protect privacy for vending machine customers

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Technology savvy employees at a gaming and hospitality technology hub are making age verified transactions from a newly installed vending machine.

Age verification taps blockchain to protect privacy for self-service customers


Where better than a hospitality and gaming technology hub to test the exciting world of age verification technology?

Technology savvy employees at Black Fire Innovation, a technology hub created by Caesars Entertainment Inc. and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, are making age verified transactions from a newly-installed vending machine.

Nicole Schultz, communications coordinator at the International Gaming Institute and Office of Economic Development in Las Vegas, verifies her identity while making a purchase at the Civic machine.

The glass front vending machine, located in an open workspace, allows employees to make age verified purchases using their smart phones in a way that protects their personal privacy.

The machine, which bears the logo of Civic Technologies, has text on the side instructing consumers to download the Civic app and create a digital identity. In tandem with the app, the vending machine uses blockchain-powered age verification to privately ensure the consumer is allowed to make age-restricted purchases.

Civic Technologies, a provider of digital identity solutions, placed the beverage machine to demonstrate the importance and utility of private identity verification.

Civic and Black Fire Innovation believe the collaboration will lead to more engaging customer experiences for gaming, hospitality and vending.

Consumer privacy critical for vending machine

“By making digital identity verification easy — without sacrificing privacy — Civic offers forward-looking technology that will help foster more breakthroughs across gaming and entertainment,” Robert Rippee, executive director of UNLV’s Black Fire Innovation hub, said in a prepared statement.

Chris Hart

Chris Hart, Civic’s chief operating officer, offered an overview of the technology in an interview. Here is an edited version of this interview.

Q. Can you explain the age verification process for the vending machine?

A. To be eligible to purchase age restricted products at the machine, you need to establish your age. In order to prove your age without sharing your private data with the machine, you load a mobile app. You go through a brief process which includes taking a picture of a government issued identity document. Then you do a short video selfie.

We use biometric technology to create a 3-D face map. We map that 3-D face map to the document. Once that’s done, we take data off the document — specifically your birth date. Now you have this identity. When you’re ready to purchase at the machine, it’s as simple as walking up, selecting your product and scanning a QR code to verify that you are of age. Once the machine receives a thumbs up, it will then dispense the product.

We don’t store any data at all of the individual. It passes through our system, we do our verification and then it is deleted. The data is stored on their own mobile phone in their app which only they have access to.

If they walk up to a vending machine and scan that QR code and say “authorize” on their mobile phone, they’re still not sharing any data. The only thing they’re sharing is that they are over the age of 21 or whatever the right age is.

Our vending partners have zero interest in creating liability for themselves by taking personal information of their customers. But they do need to know that the person is of age.

Q. Why is it necessary to take a video selfie?

A. To make sure it’s not somebody trying to beat the system. You could take a picture off the Internet and hold it up in front of the phone and take a picture of a picture. Having the video selfie allows “read depth,” which allows us to know that there’s a 3-D face there rather than a two-dimensional representation of a face.

Q. Civic also has its own digital wallet, which is another emerging technology unto itself. Is the Civic digital wallet part of the identity verification?

A. Yes, but not for the purpose of paying for your purchase. We are only doing the identity and age verification. The purchase aspect is handled entirely by the machine by its existing payment methods. The name of what you download to prove your age is called Civic Wallet, but the identity aspect of the wallet is the only piece that you would be using.

Q. What industries have been the main customers for your identity verification technology?

A. It runs the gamut. In the vending space, we’ve been involved since 2018 in age verification as a service without compromising the underlying private data of the individual. Being able to prove age without sharing personal information in our mind was sort of the holy grail of identity fraud prevention in retail.

We’re partnered with Johnson Controls for physical access management for buildings. You would use your Civic identity on your mobile phone to scan a QR code at a kiosk that would then print your badge for entry into an office building.

In a more online kind of use case we’re doing things like log in, so rather than log in with Facebook or Google you can log in with Civic without linking your accounts on a back end which creates a honey pot of information that is actually to the detriment to the consumer and compromises consumer privacy.

If you link your Facebook account to a website you’d like to visit, suddenly all that data from Facebook is available to the website and vice versa. So we have a product called Civic Log In which is used online. We have had some gaming companies use us online for age verification.

We’ve been doing quite a bit of work on KYC (Know Your Customer) in the financial services sector.

Text on the side of the machine instructs users to download the app.

Q. Prior to this vending machine at Black Fire Innovation, what vending applications has the company been involved with?

A. We did a proof of concept with Anheuser Busch. We created a vending machine that would do age verification that we demoed in New York City at Money 2021 and at South By Southwest. We’ve been working with a number of vending companies over the past three years, including SandenVendo, Aaeon and PopCom.

Most of the machines we have in the field are in the CBD side. Those are SandenVendo machines placed by local distributors.

Q. How did the collaboration with Black Fire Innovation come about?

A. We’ve been speaking with gaming concerns for a couple of years. One of the things important to them was to really understand how the (age verification) technology worked. In order for them to get comfortable with the privacy aspect for consumers, we suggested showing them on a vending machine what the experience is like. This way they would be able to see if this is usable in Las Vegas. They (Blackfire) said it would be great if you put a machine here. They wanted to see how the blockchain is opening up new use cases for identity.

Q. What specific gaming applications are you thinking about?

A. Think about players cards. They are pretty constrained to one property or a small group of properties on the Strip. There could be a universal gaming identity which allows you to take your players rewards across properties. There’s a real advantage in an ability to engage consumers in a more consistent way for the total experience. It could include on-property plus online. It could also include automated retail as part of that experience.

If you accrued a certain number of rewards, you would be able to use those in a variety of ways whether it’s in an automated retail context, gaming online or even cross-property.

Q, What is the goal for this vending machine at Black Fire Innovation?

A. The most important thing we want to do is demonstrate in a way that people can appreciate the power of the technology, that there is a new method to be able to enable use cases that involve confidential information that can be done in a totally secure and private way using the blockchain.

We’re moving away form a world where all data is stored on centralized databases. Data is now moving to a distributed networking kind of environment, and that’s a good thing from both a privacy and security point of view. It can open up new ways of doing business that expand opportunity for the hospitality, gaming and vending industries.

Images courtesy of Civic Technologies and Networld Media Group.