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Heavy hitters to collaborate on promoting digital-ID tech

Microsoft, Google, PayPal and others identify an identity problem

June 24, 2008 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - The concept of digital information cards, an ID system that would allow individuals to authenticate their online identities in much the same way that a credential such as a driver's license allows in the physical world, has been around for several years now.

But practically speaking, the technologies have failed to gain much market traction. That's partly because of interoperability concerns stemming from the scattered nature of the development work in this area. There has also been a general lack of awareness of the cards among businesses and consumers.

The Information Card Foundation (ICF), a nonprofit group to be formally launched Tuesday by a group of industry heavyweights, including Microsoft, Oracle, Google and PayPal, hopes to effectively address these issues. The group will focus on bridging the communication and technology gaps that exists between the various vendor and industry group offerings in the information card space.

The group will also work to create a more unified and consistent message to consumers and businesses about the security and ease-of-use benefits of information cards.

Information cards are essentially the digital equivalent to physical credentials such as driver's licenses and state-issued ID cards. The digital version allows the holder of the card to authenticate his identity without needing to enter a username or password when entering a site or conducting an online transaction.

The cards can be populated by identity information provided by the users themselves, such as name, age, sex and address information, or with information that has been vetted by a reliable third party such as a bank, a credit card company or even a government entity.

"People who have been working on this stuff felt we needed an organization that can help drive market adoption" of information card technologies, said Paul Trevitchick, chairman of ICF. "There are many offerings out there, but there never has been a voice for the technology's power."

A lack of "inclusiveness" among the various vendors and technology groups has raised interoperability questions and created an "us vs. them" mentality in the space, he said. "We need to drive toward convergence and interoperability."

Examples of digital-ID technologies include Microsoft's Windows CardSpace, Novell's Digital ME and the Eclipse Foundation's open-source-oriented Project Higgins, all of which allow users to store and use multiple information cards containing different identity information on their desktops. The tools allow users to release as much or as little of their identity as needed to complete an online transaction. For instance, a user could supply a Web site looking for basic identity information with a self-issued information card, while using an identity card supplied by a credit card company when filling out an online loan application.

Despite their promise, the technologies are still struggling to gain broad acceptance. That, said Trevitchick, is what ICF is seeking to change.

Over the short term, ICF will try to get everyone in this space to agree to the use of standard Web site icons that will indicate the site accepts digital information cards, he said.

Over time, ICF will work on promoting interoperability via its own recommendations as well as by organizing interoperability events and seminars. The group will also provide informational support for projects involving the build-out of information card infrastructure for newer platforms, including mobile devices.

ICF also hopes to get involved in developing policies, identity rights agreements and auditing standards to ensure that such digital cards meet legal requirements.

Correction

Due to a reporting error, an earlier version of this article incorrectly references "IBM's Project Higgins." The Higgins Project is an Eclipse Foundation open-source project, as currently noted above, and is neither controlled nor owned by IBM.

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