‘Seinfeld’ star John O’Hurley’s new tech venture
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‘Seinfeld’ superstar John O’Hurley has traded in his role as fictional CEO of a clothing company to become a tech entrepreneur working in the digital ID authentication space.
“All we are is who we are,” says John O’Hurley, “and unfortunately we have to give that away ten, fifteen times a day.” This makes us more vulnerable than ever to identity theft, which, according to O’Hurley, “is a culture-changing thing. We’re inundated with it. Companies can’t trust who’s on the other end of the line, and we have the same problem on social media. It’s a large issue for our society.”
If you want to know how big the problem is, says O’Hurley, look no further than the recent Twitter spat in which prospective buyer Elon Musk claimed that “90 per cent of my comments are bots”. Following Musk’s widely circulated tweet that he aims to “authenticate all real humans”, O’Hurley joined forces with technology veteran Becky Wanta to launch US-based biometric authentication company Q5id.
O’Hurley is best remembered as one of the breakout stars on the US television sitcom ‘Seinfeld’ for his portrayal of the pompous but irresistibly funny J Peterman, CEO of the eponymous catalogue marketing company that sold adventure-style clothing. But he is also known as a tech entrepreneur, and currently has an ambassadorial role for Q5id’s biometric authentication app.
“There can’t be anyone more appropriate to talk on the subject of stolen ID,” says O’Hurley. This is because “I stole the ID of J Peterman, and I’ve had it for 30 years and I’m not giving it back. It’s the greatest act of identity theft ever.”
His claim is not quite as outrageous as it sounds, as there is a real-life J Peterman company that to this day markets clothing, fashion accessories and furniture primarily through catalogues and online. The organisation is headed by an entrepreneur, former baseball player and author who is actually called John Peterman (while O’Hurley’s character differed in that his first name was Jacopo).
But O’Hurley’s use of the word ‘stole’ remains something of a thespian overstatement, as the sitcom character was created with the approval of the real J Peterman: scripts were even sent to his office prior to shooting. As O’Hurley’s career took him more in the direction of business entrepreneurship, he became an investor in the non-fictional Peterman enterprise: “I liked the role so much I bought the company.”
The actor-entrepreneur has more recently invested in Q5id, whose debut app uses facial and palm biometrics, as well as OCR-based fake document recognition and barcode decryption “to make sure people are who they say they are”. These scans are then compared against previously enrolled biometrics to ensure the data matches. The app’s four-step process ensures that anyone who enrols can securely access business systems at any time. According to Q5id, this allows businesses to efficiently onboard new employees, social media accounts or customers with identity proofing and to enable passwordless biometric authentication from anywhere using the app.
O’Hurley say that the software’s key strength is that “it provides a proven identity that stays under the control of the individual. No-one can get in there because it is encrypted and stored offline.” It only takes a few minutes to get on stream, says the 67-year-old entrepreneur, which allows government-approved identification to be verified. This is then followed up by a ‘belt-and-braces’ in-person phone call to establish that “you’re not a bot”. O’Hurley describes the app as a terminal technology “because the failure acceptance rate of this is 1-in-933,000,000,000. It’s just about as close to perfect as we can possibly do.”
O’Hurley’s fame inevitably rests on his role in ‘Seinfeld’ as the frustrated explorer – and ultimately dismal company CEO – whose ability to play a comedic role straight made Peterman a firm favourite with enthusiasts for what Rolling Stone magazine polled as the third best sitcom ever (after ‘The Simpsons’ and ‘Cheers’). Although a secondary character, who appeared in only 20 of the show’s 180 episodes, O’Hurley remains a household name, although news of his more recent successes on US shows ‘Dancing With the Stars’ and ‘Family Feud’ has barely crossed the Atlantic. And yet, with ‘Seinfeld’ currently being aired on the Netflix streaming platform, John O’Hurley’s stock today is as high as it ever was. This is something he is prepared to leverage to promote personal cyber security: “Fraud cost Americans $56bn in 2021, and enrolling employees or customers into the Q5id patented identity proving system will significantly reduce business fraud and eliminate fake social media bots.”
As an international star of both silver and small screens, does O’Hurley personally feel vulnerable to ID theft? “Well, I’m sometimes impersonated on social media,” he says, before claiming that he rarely feels inclined to do anything about such intrusions because “they’re normally more interesting than I am”. But when it comes to his personal financial data, he sidesteps the question with self-deflating humour: “You can steal my identity if you want to. I’ve got such a poor credit record, you won’t be able to do anything with it.”
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