AT&T, Verizon, and T-Cell’s passwordless future has slipped away


Initially introduced as “Venture Confirm” in 2018, ZenKey was meant to be a single sign-on system, much like the register with Google or Apple buttons that you just see on varied web sites. The concept was that every provider would provide an app that might confirm your id, then act as a go everytime you went to log right into a supported web site or perform one thing like a financial institution switch. In idea, it might be safer as a result of it used knowledge out of your SIM card and site to ensure it was actually you attempting to log in.

It doesn’t appear to be ZenKey acquired very far although, and now it’s principally disappeared. LightReading stories that the web site for it’s down, AT&T stopped supporting it final yr, and the “ZenKey powered by Verizon” app is now not obtainable in app shops (no less than within the US). T-Cell’s web site appears to have virtually no references to the system so far as Google can discover, although there may be one article from mid-2020 on its enterprise web site that mentions it.

To those that are acquainted with the historical past of multi-carrier joint ventures, this final result isn’t essentially a shock. LightReading known as it when the service was introduced in 2019, operating the headline “Meet ZenKey: Telcos’ Doomed Single Signal-On Service.” The Verge’s Dieter Bohn known as ZenKey “the proper thought from the improper corporations” when he wrote in regards to the Cross-Service Messaging Initiative that tried to interchange SMS with the then-burgeoning RCS. He based mostly his opinion on previous merchandise like SoftCard, which aimed to compete with Google Pockets and Apple Pay. (It succeeded about in addition to CCMI did, which is to say under no circumstances — although it in all probability didn’t assist that when it launched in 2013 it was known as “ISIS,” a reputation that was about to imply one thing very unhealthy to lots of people).

In the long run, the usefulness of a service like ZenKey goes to depend on how a lot third-party assist it will get — even when your app is nice, most individuals aren’t going to trouble with it if they’ll solely use it to log in to a few or 4 websites. And why would builders add ZenKey to their websites when there are different choices from the likes of Google, Apple, Amazon, and Meta, which all have their very own single sign-on answer with accounts individuals already use? These would additionally possible have significantly better model recognition when a person hits a login web page.

Living proof: listed below are all of the websites and apps that labored with ZenKey in July 2022, in accordance with a Wayback Machine archive of its now-defunct web site:

Screenshot of a page that says “these apps and websites are supported by ZenKey,” then lists the logos of myAT&T, DirecTV Stream, DirecTV, Currently from AT&T, Verizon, and FIOS.

Realistically, what number of of those providers would one individual be signed up for?
Picture: ZenKey through The Wayback Machine

A press launch from late 2020 mentions that different corporations like Proctorio and DocuSign had “plans to trial or go dwell” with assist for the service, but it surely looks like that didn’t precisely work out.

Even when the cell carriers (predictably) weren’t capable of eliminate passwords, I do hope that they ultimately turn out to be a factor of the previous. However eliminating them would require a a lot tougher push from a a lot larger group; maybe passkeys, a FIDO-powered passwordless authentication system pushed for by Apple, Google, Microsoft, and the like, will find yourself being the factor. However until it turns into extensively adopted (which isn’t precisely for positive), we’ll possible be caught with the patchwork of profitable single sign-on choices, password managers, and scattered sticky notes we all know we shouldn’t use however do anyhow.


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