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Identity and Authentication Services

OpenID and the User-Centric Time Machine

Created: 22 Feb 2009 • Updated: 08 Aug 2012
nicolas_popp's picture
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There have been a few very insightful discussions from Chris Messina and other regarding the PIP as a secure file, so I thought I would share some of our longer-term product goals.

Today, the PIP file vault is a personal digital locker for our users to manually upload their most personal files. That by itself is not an innovation. In fact, the Web is full of personal storage services like Gmail. Online storage provides immediate and useful value, yet its usefulness is limited by the amount of work an end-user is willing to commit (uploading takes work!).

Now it is interesting to consider how this simple Web 1.0 model of personal digital storage evolves when combined with an OpenID provider. Together, can these technologies allow us to transfer and store in one single place under our control the personal files, private data and rich media content that is today spread throughout the Internet? In short, can a simple file vault become the in-cloud "time machine" of our distributed digital lifestyle?

A SAAS and device-centric view of cloud storage:

A lot has happened with network storage in the last few years. One of the most notorious disruptions is Amazon S3. I would characterize Amazon S3 as a SAAS-centric view of storage. Web applications can outsource the storage function to a highly cost-effective network that already has reached economy of scale. Obviously, it fits the Amazon economic model perfectly. Closer to the end user, we find Microsoft and Apple storage services. Their approach is similar in concept. To them, cloud storage is merely a device enhancement and synchronization is their lingua Franca (iSynch for Apple, Live Mesh for Microsoft). The concept certainly has merit for users with data spread across multiple devices. However, this is a very device-centric view of the world. It fails to realize that increasingly, our critical data resides across many Internet Web Sites with no ability to synch.

A user-centric viewpoint: centralized storage for distributed private data

So, what happens now when one looks at storage with a Web 2.0 user-centric view instead of the cloud-centric view of Amazon, and the device-centric view of Microsoft and Apple? One sees independent, distributed and sometime competing Web services. Through these services, users store personal information, create new data, and acquire digital content. Some of that content is low value and can be left behind. Some of his data is social in nature and is probably best shared with our Facebook friends. However, some of this data is also highly confidential and personal in nature. In that case, we, the end user, should be able to request its safe transfer, and backup to a digital locker that we fully control (the OP).

Towards a "Locker Connect" mechanism

Using the OpenID and OAuth models, such private data transfer can be authenticated and authorized by the end-user (although the data flows from the RP to the OP). The locker network end point address can be discovered as any identity attribute would. Finally, a user interface ala Facebook Connect can provide a friendly user experience while ensuring a user-centric control point (the user controls what, where, when and if the data is being sent).

The "wow" effect

The use cases certainly sound unlimited. Think digital health care and the $20B stimulus package: whether I am accessing my doctor, hospital, lab or pharmacy Web sites, I can now authenticate across all health service providers and authorize the audited transfer of personal health records back to my locker. Think rich media content: I can now purchase digital music, movies, or books across multiple e-tailers and have the bits (or maybe just the digital rights) sent back to my locker. Think payment and billing: please, send all my purchase and online statements back to my digital locker.

Yes, we can! With data portability and OpenID, a simple file vault can grow into a much more compelling personal identity service. And who knows. With security and private storage, we may even have a real business model!