I am a staunch defender of personal
liberties, including both the right to privacy and the right to
security. Because of this and other reasons, I rarely use any
technology outside of my control and understanding.
This includes using any Internet commerce site
that requires me to register personal information–specifically
credit card information–before using its services. And yes, that
means this practice precludes me from using eBay, one of the Web’s
most popular destinations.
My problem with eBay is that it seems to think
it’s appropriate to ask users to place their trust in its security
when it comes to personal information. Make no mistake: I know I’m
in the minority here. Thousands of users–and likely several in
your own organization–have been willing to trust eBay and
countless other Web sites with all the pieces of their personal
But no security is 100 percent fail-proof, a
fact driven home last month when online financial service PayPal,
an eBay subsidiary, warned customers that a flaw had
leaked their e-mail addresses to the Web. According to the
company, the leak came from another company PayPal had contracted
with that failed to properly secure an online form.
And that’s exactly why I won’t register
personal information. You can never be completely sure who has
access to the data.
However, I will admit that eBay made a wise
decision recently in regard to its users’ security. Last month, the
company notified customers that it was discontinuing the use of
Microsoft Passport, an identity management service that Microsoft
itself has been trying to scale back.
I’ve been on a campaign to warn users of the
risks of putting all their eggs in one basket and the dangers of
single sign-on technologies since 2001. Advocates of such services
would have you believe that these are “user-enabling” technologies,
but the truth is that any technology, including single sign-on,
that requires you to relinquish control of your personal
information is a risk.
In my opinion, any technology designed to
collect, store, and track personal information and user behavior
outside of your direct control is a violation of both privacy and
security. With information and identify theft at record levels,
keeping personal information in one place and expecting an unknown
third party to keep it secure is idiotic–with or without the
Of course, Microsoft Passport isn’t the only
single sign-on service. Announced shortly after Passport’s debut,
the Liberty Alliance Project was supposed to be an alternative
standard for single sign-on technology.
Given my stance on open source, you might think
I preferred the Liberty Alliance Project to Passport simply because
Microsoft wasn’t behind it–but not this time. Just because Liberty
Alliance Project’s single sign-on technology is an open standard
doesn’t make me like it any more than Passport.
A bad idea is still bad, regardless of who
proposes it. Having one username and password to secure user
information for multiple Web sites located on a system outside of
the control of both the user and the Web site operator is a risk
that isn’t worth the “user-friendly” functionality.
So regardless of their touted benefits to
Internet users or ostensible security enhancements, I haven’t
changed my stance on single sign-on technologies in the past three
and a half years. However, the risks notwithstanding, legitimate
areas still exist where single sign-on technologies do make sense,
such as on a private network or within an organization.
But no one’s going to convince me that it has a
place on the public Internet, where user behavior and preferences
should remain a personal matter.
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