Hewlett-Packard and MasterCard Join Digital Identity Alliance

The Liberty Alliance Project, a high-profile organization working to develop open standards for authenticating e-commerce transactions and digital identities, announced that Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HWP) and MasterCard International have joined its ranks as founding members and will take positions on the management board.

Other companies that have recently climbed aboard the Liberty Alliance bandwagon include American Express, AOL Time Warner (NYSE: AOL), France Telecom and General Motors (NYSE: GM).

“By joining the Liberty Alliance, HP reaffirms its longstanding commitment to supporting open industry standards and market-unifying architectures,” Hewlett-Packard vice president and chief technology officer Rich DeMillo said.

According to DeMillo, the Alliance will increase customer access to interoperable technologies and stimulate a broad spectrum of innovation.

“Participating in this alliance levels the playing field for IT developers,” he said.

One Sign-On Fits All

The goal of the Alliance is to develop an open-standards, single sign-on identity that can be used by users logging on the Internet via any device.

With a single sign-on identity, users can sign on one time, and have their identity authenticated and personal data available for a spectrum of services — from movies on demand, to banking and e-commerce — even if those services are provided by different businesses using different technology platforms.

Interest Growing

Although the concept of a single sign-on has been discussed for several years, there has been an increased interest in the idea in recent months.

The Liberty Alliance, led by Sun Microsystems (Nasdaq: SUNW), announced in late September that it planned to work on a development of a digital identity system. The announcement was a clear challenge to Microsoft’s Passport technology, a first mover in the single sign-on market.

However, the Alliance has maintained an open invitation to have Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT) become part of the open-standards movement.

Opening Salvo

When the Liberty Alliance made its initial announcement, a Microsoft spokesperson declined to comment on it, beyond saying that Sun and others would be entering the game very late.

The Passport offering, however, has been widely criticized by privacy advocates and security analysts. In November, the software giant acknowledged it was working to repair flaws in Passport that might allow hackers to access people’s personal data,including credit-card information.

Microsoft’s Charge

Microsoft has continued to push its Passport solution, however. The company recently made a rebate offer to customers, for example, encouraging them to use the system at selected e-commerce sites.

And on Wednesday, Microsoft said it has entered into a strategic alliance with leading online jobs site Monster.com to provide personalization services for job seekers. Monster.com said it will offer users the ability to register and log into its Web site using Microsoft’s .NET Passport single sign-on.

Since Passport has been the object of wide industry criticism and resistance, it appears that Microsoft may be turning to alliances with popular sites to drive its adoption.

Across the Board

Eric Dean, president of the Liberty Alliance Management Board and chief information officer of United Airlines (NYSE: UAL), said that the Alliance is moving forward to develop a commercially viable, open, ubiquitous standard for digital identity, authentication and authorization.

The Alliance says that the system it backs will be usable across a multitude of business systems and consumer products, from cellular phones to Web browsers to automobiles.

The other founders of the Alliance are: Bell Canada, Global Crossing, Nokia, NTT DoCoMo, Openwave Systems, RealNetworks, RSA Security, Sony Corporation, Sun Microsystems, United Airlines and Vodafone. The group plans to meet again in January.

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