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Tuesday, September 19, 2006

How many identities do you have?

In the last couple of weeks I've seen assorted presentations talking about "single identities". Apparently, we'll all rely on our operators to give us a single sign-on for all our telecom services, most of which will be done by the operator themselves, and the rest through close, trusted partners.

There's a word for this, which starts with "B" and ends with "ollocks".

I've got seven primary communications identities (2 SIMs, fixed line, ISP, Yahoo, Google, Skype) and many more secondary ones. This is likely to increase, not decrease.

For a start, unless an operator offers me guaranteed "identity portability", I'm obviously not going to trust them to host all my various log-ins, as I don't want to lose anything when I churn. Customers aren't stupid - they know a lock-in policy when they see one. You can add "content portability", "email portability", "address book portability" and "payment portability" to that as well.

Secondly, I can't see any of these providers relinquishing control to the others. If I decide to forgo my SIM, and try & authenticate with O2 via Skype or Yahoo!, I'm not convinced I'd be able to. Or authenticate my T-Mobile phone via O2's network.

Bottom line - drop the the "one identity" Powerpoint bullet, and put it in the bin alongside "one device", "one address book" and so on.


Anonymous said...

Hi Dean,

As you, I have a lot of identities. But I see that a single sign-on could be very useful.

I think mobile operators has a real opportunity to add-value by helping users to manage their identities. The trusted relationship is already established (I really trust the MO, they have all my data and I trust the SIM)

Of course, I would like identity portability be guaranteed and also I would like several public identities associated to my private identity.

Also, this would help me to protect my privacy and avoid to share my credit card, address, phone, etc with multiple sites. Why shouldn't a MO act as PayPal do, for instance?

Alex said...

Straying away from the original topic:
in fact, in some developing markets (e.g. Eastern Africa), where most people don't have "real" bank accounts, mobile operators provide banking like services, which enable subscribers to transfer money between pre-paid accounts.

In markets like U.S. the trust to operators is pretty marginal, and new service providers like PayPal seem to have better success chances.

Back to the question who has best chances to manage multiple identities.
Personally I believe mostly in the device. Web browsers have already well working password management. For credit card ids etc. I use secure storage (i.e. "wallet" on the mobile phone, "keychain" on Mac PC).
Usage of multiple devices requires some form of synchronization of personal data between devices (identites, address books etc.).
Since direct device-to-device sync is typically quite cumbersome, I see here a role for service providers like e.g. .Mac.
No special trust needed, if the identities are encrypted by devices, and service provider just "sees" encrypted data.

Dean Bubley said...

No, mobile operators are (generally) the wrong people, as they aren't best-placed to support IDs both on phones and PCs. If I want to pick up my email or log in to VoIP while travelling, I really don't want to think about "does single sign-on roaming cost me money"

And don't even think of suggesting that PC/Internet authentication can be mediated via SIM & phone with a Bluetooth connection....