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Online identity card scheme aims to remove password headaches

Can Equifax succeed where OpenID failed?

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Credit reference agency Equifax has launched an online identity card scheme that aims to reduce consumer security and password headaches.

The Equifax online identity card or I-Card, launched as a beta on Thursday, is designed to make to make online transactions easier and more secure. Users of the i-card will be able to log into sites that support the technology without filling in forms or keeping tabs on multiple passwords.

I-cards would be used to access websites without the need for users to remember passwords. Consumers personal data such as their purchase preferences, payment, or verified identity information might in future be included on the card, making it an online loyalty and authentication card combo the allows one-click shopping. Information management company Parity worked with Equifax to develop the I-card, released to beta testing this week as one of the first cards of its type.

If it takes off the online identity card scheme might reduce the need for ecommerce firms to retain customers' personal data. The scheme aims to offer the online equivalent of a driver's license, passport, or similar ID real-world identity check.

That's a lofty aim. Equifax is a member of the newly established industry group, called ICF (Information Card Foundation), set up back in June to promote internet-enabled digital identities using information cards. Other firms signed up to ICF include Deutsche Telecom, Equifax, Google, Intel, Microsoft, Novell, Oracle, and PayPal.

While the scheme has heavyweight backing its perhaps wise to remember OpenID, a federated authentication scheme for the net, also boasts many high profile backers. OpenID was touted as a way to use one account across multiple web services. Anybody who has a Yahoo! account has an OpenID but the service is far from straightforward to use.

An even bigger problem is that some of the larger firms involved in OpenID issue identities themselves without allowing credentials issued by other participants to work on their websites, defeating the purpose of the scheme. Google, Yahoo!, and Microsoft have all been guilty of this so that you can't use a Yahoo! issued openID to log into Hotmail or a Microsoft ID to log into Picasso. For more, go here.

The online identity card scheme does include more electronic wallet-type features, which might make a difference in stimulating e-commerce takeup among ecommerce suppliers that could help the scheme get off the ground. Microsoft's Geneva federated identity scheme supports the project, which is gaining momentum, though whether it will avoid the political squabbles and incompatibilities that have blighted OpenID remains unclear.

The Equifax I-card comes free of charge, as explained here. A proof-of-concept site can be found here. ®

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