Friday, August 17, 2007

AOL OpenID provider whitelist

So there has been a lot of discussion regarding AOL's support for 3rd party OpenIDs and the fact that currently AOL has a whitelist of approved OpenID providers. A number of good points have been raised.

Kim Cameron writes...
What would make $$$ for AOL? To get my pretty eyeballs over there PDQ. What’s the best way to make that happen? Make it easy! Acquire new eyeballs! Acquire new eyeballs! Acquire new eyeballs! From anywhere and everywhere!

The secret? Auto-create an account on AOL no matter WHAT credential a user employs to get there. You need this anyway to manage their profile. Then get the user transparently to great experiences and start ringing up those eyeball seconds.

I fully agree with Kim that eyeballs are the desired commodity. In fact, that is the whole reason AOL is implementing open standards and allowing 3rd party identities. However, I do believe that accounts cost money (or at least can cost money depending on what that account is allowed to do at a service provider). Take a picture sharing site for example. The picture service will provide some amount of space for each account (this is true of email providers, etc). The picture service could charge for the space in which case the “real” accounts would be easily distinguished but most sites these days are trying the “free and paid by advertising” business model. Also, another indirect cost of an account comes from whether the account can publish content. Spammers love to create accounts for the sole purpose of posting one or two messages. They don't care that they are spinning through zillions of accounts. So yes, AOL is looking to get as many eyeballs as possible, but doing so carefully for this initial release.

Ashish Jain writes...
As it turns out, is not in their initial list. I talked to the AOL folks and they promised to add it during their update next week. Fair enough. However, this model isn’t scalable. Given the distributed nature of the protocol, it doesn’t seem right for IdP/OPs and RPs to individually contact each other to maintain this list. Isn’t there a need for an OP Reputation, a.k.a. qualification, a.k.a certification suite that the RPs can leverage?

Jeff Bohren writes...
In OpenID, there is very little perceived risk in being a provider. If a user compromises your site and uses your site to authenticate to a relying party as someone else, there is really very little consequence to you. After all you don’t have any agreements with any specific relying parties. Why not be a provider, if there is so little risk involved?

Being a relying party however is a different matter. If someone compromises a provider and falsely authenticates to your relying party, they are misusing someone’s resources. The sensitivity of these resources would make the difference between allowing unrestricted OpenID or white list controlled OpenID.

Ashish and Jeff both make great points. The crux of the issue is that all the risk is assumed by the relying party. That means the relying party needs to be able to detect “fraud” and take appropriate action. This could be done through a number of mechanisms like a “Provider” Reputation service or “fraud” detection infrastructure. The OpenID model is similar to the email model. Anyone can stand up a SMTP server and send mail. It's the receivers of the mail (ISP or individual) that have to filter the spam. In order to learn from our implementation and fix any bugs, we decided to take a cautious approach at first.

I would say this approach is actually very common in the Web 2.0 community. How many sites starting out are by invitation only? Do they do that to create buzz? Well maybe... but I suspect that the biggest reason is that it limits their exposure to invalid/spam accounts.

Finally, Carsten Pötter writes...
Is this the positive signal to send out to the community? Is there even a strategy at AOL? It seems like there is not much support for OpenID from within the company. But I may be wrong and see things too negative but I am actually really disappointed. :(

Well... I hope it is a positive signal to the community:) AOL is the first major provider to support OpenID as a relying party. As to strategy, yes there is one. It's one thing to implement the OpenID RP protocol. It's another to have all the associated infrastructure in place to detect and protect against “fraud”. As was pointed out earlier, the relying party assumes all the risk in the OpenID protocol. We are actively working on that infrastructure and process so that in the future we can remove the whitelist.

1 comment:

Carsten Pötter said...

I probably have been too negative about this move, especially regarding an OpenID strategy at AOL. I am curious about the next steps. ;)