Ben Laurie blathering

Is Liberty User-Centric?

Paul Madsen and Pat Patterson berate me for suggesting that Liberty is all about silos. They’re right, of course. You can use Liberty to support user-centric identity management, if you want to. But I’m not buying their argument that Liberty is all about user-centric. Paul Madsen says that Liberty is built on the assumption that users keep their identity where they want to; if that were really true it would be a very strange assumption indeed, since its pretty clear that users currently do not have any control at all over where their identity is kept, to speak of.

So, I’ll definitely buy a modified version of Paul’s assumptions:

  1. Users’ identity will be kept in multiple places.
  2. The ‘where’ can be 3rd party identity providers as well as local storage (e.g. devices).
  3. It’s highly unlikely that all aspects of identity will be maintained at the same provider, i.e. there will be multiple ‘wheres’.
  4. Most users don’t want to be responsible for facilitating identity sharing by themselves providing the ‘where’.
  5. Experts will misinterpret 1-4 to suit whatever is their current competitive positioning.

I don’t see how changing the first assumption (from “users keep their identity where they want to”) makes any difference to the architecture of appropriate solutions, once you’ve combined it with the fourth assumption. Of course, if you drop the fourth assumption, it makes a huge difference, because you’ll architect a solution where the user is in control.

But Liberty cannot drop the fourth assumption: then facilities for discovery of data the user has no control over would not be needed.

Or, in other words, the base assumption of user-centric identity management is that users do want to control the “where”. If Liberty really were a user-centric architecture, it would have this assumption built in. And need I point out that assumption five applies to Liberty members just as well as anyone else?
Detractors will point out the dumbness of this idea

Ben, you want to remember where the various pieces of your identity are located, go for it. Write down the addresses on sticky notes, email them to yourselves, scribble them on your palm, be my guest. Should you be available when some provider seeks your identity, you can sort through the list of equivalent providers and specify your choice. How very user-centric.

Of course, the users won’t be managing their data by such primitive means. Their computer(s) or their chosen service provider(s) will do all the legwork. How dumb would I sound if I said Liberty couldn’t work because the sysadmins couldn’t possibly keep track of all the post-it notes they’d need for all that identity data?

Pat says

In any case, user privacy, consent and control has always been foremost

As I have explained in my paper on selective disclosure user privacy is just not possible to guarantee using the mechanisms that Liberty currently uses. Since user privacy is foremost, I look forward to Liberty’s adoption of selective disclosure.

Finally, Paul thinks he has taken the moral high ground by linking to this, so I feel obliged to point out once more that this blog does not reflect Google’s views on anything.


  1. Brilliantly straightforward paper on selective disclosure..

    Off to read Endre Bangerter, Jan Camenisch and Anna Lysyanskaya (nb: you spelt Anna’s last name incorrectly in the paper)

    Thank you.

    Comment by Steve — 17 May 2007 @ 0:49

  2. […] LinksBen Laurie blathering « Is Liberty User-Centric? […]

    Pingback by Links » Is Liberty Inherently User-Centric? — 17 May 2007 @ 14:49

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

Powered by WordPress