IBM has disclosed an experimental service that it plans to bring to its Bluemix developer platform intended to allow end users to authenticate themselves online without giving away key personal information.
Identity Mixer uses encryption to secure identity attributes associated with a user, such as their age, nationality, address and credit card details, in such a way that only selected pieces are revealed to third parties, IBM said.
"Identity Mixer enables users to choose precisely which data to share, and with whom. Now, web service providers can improve their risk profile and enhance trust with customers, and it's all in the cloud making it easy for developers to program," said IBM chief privacy officer Christina Peters.
Typically, online services require people to sign up using information such as full name and address and birth date to identify which region they live in and whether they are of legal age to accept the contract terms or receive the service.
However, this information reveals more about them than is necessary, and could prove damaging if it is later disclosed by a hacking attack or other form of data breach affecting the service provider's systems.
As an example, IBM cited an online film streaming service, which needs to know whether the customer is old enough to watch a specific title, and whether they have a valid subscription.
Identity Mixer can provide confirmation to the service that the person is above a certain age and that their subscription is indeed valid, without revealing any further details.
This provides protection for users, but online service providers will also benefit because Identity Mixer eliminates the need to store personal data which could be exposed in a data breach, IBM said.
Identity Mixer has been demonstrated to work on smartcards, according to IBM, but is now being made available to developers as an easy-to-use web service via the firm's Bluemix developer cloud.
Starting from this spring, Bluemix subscribers will be able to experiment with Identity Mixer within their own applications and web services.
Dr Anna Lysyanskaya, a co-inventor of Identity Mixer and professor of computer science at Brown University in Rhode Island, said that the motivation behind its development was to allow individuals to have control over the information they reveal about themselves.
"With Identity Mixer now in the cloud, developers have a very strong cryptographic tool that makes privacy practical," she said.
"It is a piece of software that you can incorporate into an identity management service, making future privacy breaches less likely than ever before."
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