Are You a Human Closes on $4.2M Series A, Plans Expansion of Human ‘Whitelist’

Are You a Human, the Detroit-based technology company focused on online identity verification, announced today that it has closed on a $4.2 million Series A round.

Participating in the round were Detroit Venture Partners, which has invested in the company in the past; Boulder, CO-based Foundry Group Angels; MDC Dream Ventures, the investment arm of an ad agency based in New York; and NCT Ventures in Columbus, OH. Are You a Human has now raised a total of $5.2 million since its inception in 2009.

When Are You a Human began, its flagship product was an online human verification tool that was meant to be an alternative to CAPTCHA, the still-standard box that appears on many websites containing distorted letters or numbers the user has to re-type to prove they’re not a robot. Are You a Human co-founder Reid Tatoris said the company has since evolved and is now focused on offering the Internet’s first Verified Human Whitelist (more on this in a minute).

According to Tatoris, research has shown that bots accounted for more than 61 percent of web traffic in 2014. Even when bots aren’t malicious—many are geared toward scraping content for aggregation on other sites, for instance—they can still cause havoc. Tatoris said advertisers reportedly waste more than $30 billion annually showing ads to bots.

Lots of companies have tried to crack the bot-detection nut, but what makes Are You a Human different is that instead of concentrating on detecting bots, it’s pre-certifying humans by employing proprietary technology to validate and re-verify their online interactions and, if they pass muster, add them to the Verified Human Whitelist.

The Verified Human Whitelist works like this: Are You a Human has put code on more than a million websites (Yahoo and AOL among them), and as people go about their day surfing the Internet, that code analyzes their activities and collects hundreds of “fingerprinting” metrics. After a user has repeatedly been verified as human, they’re added to Are You a Human’s Verified Human Whitelist and they’re then re-verified on a daily basis.

“Our core technology has always been interaction and figuring out if it comes from a real person,” Tatoris said. “In the past, we’d ask you to play through a little game to verify you’re not a bot. Now, we don’t ask you to perform any actions, we just sit and watch what you do normally. One interaction isn’t enough—we see most users 10 or 15 times a day, and then we pool that data and are able to tell if that user is behaving in a human manner.” Bots, it turns out, are terrible at consistently mimicking human behavior.

Tatoris said Are You a Human doesn’t care which human you are— it collects anonymous interaction data, but it doesn’t store any identifying details. It also allows users to opt out if they aren’t comfortable with even anonymous data being collected about their browsing habits. Are You a Human provides its base code to interested websites for free, but makes money by selling detailed reports of its data to its website customers to help them better serve ads to target consumers.

When asked to describe how the Verified Human Whitelist process works in the wild, Tatoris said if a user goes to the Yahoo Finance page, for instance, and clicks on an article, Are You a Human’s data scientists will watch how quickly the user scrolls through the article, how fast the user types, and whether they do things like share it. “It’s really passive, but the engagement starts as soon as a user lands on a site with our code on it,” he added.

There are currently 12 employees working in Are You a Human’s Detroit headquarters and four salespeople working out of a second office in New York. Tatoris said the plan is to use the new funding to expand the Verified Human Whitelist, as well as its sales, engineering, and data science teams.

“Ultimately, we want to be a passport for the real humans on the Internet,” Tatoris said, comparing the Verified Human Whitelist to the TSA’s Precheck program. “We want to give people a simple verification tool that is as just as painless what’s used in the real world.”

Sarah Schmid Stevenson is the editor of Xconomy Detroit/Ann Arbor. You can reach her at 313-570-9823 or sschmid@xconomy.com. Follow @XconomyDET_AA

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