IBM Donates Privacy Code to Open Source Project

IBM has donated code to Eclipse’s Higgins Trust Framework Project that it could potentially develop into a tool that allow users to hide or make anonymous their personal information as they conduct business on the Web.

Although a product release is about a year or more away, its potential is intriguing, especially as there are no other comparable products on the market at the moment, Mike Neuenschwander, vice president and research director for the Burton Group, told TechNewsWorld. Additionally, a Canadian firm is about to launch a similar product, he noted.

Real World Applications

The donated software, called “Identity Mixer,” allows consumers to present anonymous digital credentials, or vouchers, from a bank or government agency such as the Department of Motor Vehicles to buy a product or enter a Web site that asks for a birth date.

“Using the original provider as verification is what is unique about this process,” Anthony Nadalin, distinguished engineer and chief security architect for IBM’s Tivoli Software, told TechNewsWorld.

For example, someone who wants to purchase music online would receive from a bank a credential containing a credit card number and expiration date. The Identity Mixer software transforms the credential so the user can send it to the online merchant. The real credit card number has not been revealed to the retailer — just the confirmation that it was a legitimate purchase.

There are any number of real world applications for which this could be used. Certainly, shopping online is at the top of the list, especially because multiple retailers and other Web service providers continue to losing customer information through negligence or theft.

Reveal Less

Another use would be for a site that requires its users to be over 18. Normally, such sites ask for a birth date to prove that, Neuenschwander said, and that particular data is also useful to identity thieves. Using this new tool, the consumer would just present a certificate stating he or she was over 18.

While it won’t completely solve the burgeoning problem of identity theft, Neuenschwander said, a commercial release of the product would certainly help.

“The less you reveal about yourself online the better and such a tool would let you do that,” he stated.

The Higgins project, an open source initiative for “user-centric” identity management applications — that is, applications that allow users to control who can access their own information — was announced in February 2006 by IBM, Novell, the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School and Parity Communications.

IBM also plans to incorporate the Identity Mixer technology into its Tivoli software portfolio of federated identity management software.

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