Google and Microsoft are among an extensive set of technology vendors aiming to spur the adoption of digital identity cards.
The two internet giants have helped form the Information Card Foundation (ICF), which aims to develop technologies to secure digital identities on the internet and which was launched today.
Digital identity cards are the online equivalent of a physical identity card, such as a driving licence. The idea is that internet users will have a virtual wallet containing an array of digital identity cards, and they can choose what information is stored on each card. The aim is to replace usernames and passwords in an effort to improve security.
Alongside Google and Microsoft, large suppliers such as Novell, Oracle, PayPal and financial information company Equifax, have joined the ICF, as well as 18 smaller suppliers and industry associations.
"Our shared goal is to deliver a ubiquitous, interoperable, privacy-respecting federated identity layer as a means to seamless, secure online transactions over network infrastructure," said Brett McDowell, executive director of Liberty Alliance, one of the founder members.
The idea of digital identities is far from new. But so far vendors' efforts have been fragmented and largely not interoperable.
The ICF is proposing a system based on three parties: the user, the identity provider (such as a bank or credit card issuer) and also what it calls a reliant party (which could be a university network, financial website or e-commerce website, for example).
The ICF argues that, because all three parties must be synced in real-time for the transaction to proceed, it should be more secure.
"Rather than logging into websites with usernames and passwords, information cards let people 'click-in' using a secure digital identity that carries only the specific information needed to enable a transaction," said Charles Andres, executive director of the ICF. "Businesses will enjoy lower fraud rates, higher affinity with customers, lower risk and more timely information about their customers and business partners."
The ICF now wants to expand its membership to include businesses, such as retailers and financial institutions, as well as government organisations.
It also wants to become a working group of Identity Commons, a community-driven organisation which promotes the creation of an open identity layer for the internet.