An open source project that aims to give people more control over how their personal information is used online has secured the backing of IBM and Novell. The Higgins Project, managed by the Eclipse open source foundation, aims to develop so-called 'user-centric' identity management.
Rather than big corportions managing identity data, the user-centric identity management approach puts individual surfers in the driving seat. Users will decide what information they want shared with trusted websites that use Higgins-derived software.
IBM, Harvard Law School's Berkman Centre for Internet & Society, Novell, and Parity Communications all said they are contributing code to the project, which aims to spawn new cross-platform security software. As well as supporting Unix, Linux or Windows machines, Project Higgins will support any identity management system.
Higgins breaks a person's identity into pieces, allowing users to dictate who can access parts of their identity information, within applicable privacy guidelines and laws. Organisations using applications built with Higgins open source tools can share specific identity information, such as their telephone number or buying preferences, according to rules set by the individual.
This set-up will allow users to change an address across all their online accounts more easily or delegate who can see what elements of their medical records, for example. The approach is also promoted as a means for businesses to create new channels of communication with customers. The idea is that individuals and organisations will form affinity groups and collaborative networks based on preferences and interests. Merchants can connect with consumers or other businesses that choose to be reached through digital 'clues' posted on websites or online social networks – such as whether they are interested in buying discontinued auto parts.
Higgins also provides a framework that allows organisations to integrate identity, profile, and relationship information across multiple systems. Using service adapters, systems such as directories, collaboration spaces and email systems can be plugged into the Higgins framework.
IBM has put Higgins support on the roadmap of its Tivoli identity management software next year, with added support by independent software vendors and IBM's consulting services division. IBM distinguished engineer and chief security architect Anthony Nadalin said: "Security is the next frontier for open source software. Open source ensures that there will be easy access to the technology, so that developers can innovate around it. It also means that customers won't be locked into a proprietary architecture when they adopt user-centric identity management systems." ®
The Higgins Project is named after the Tasmanian long-tailed Higgins mouse (not the butler character of the same name from the 1980s TV series Magnum, P.I.). According to a press release, the moniker reflects today's 'long tail' of micro-markets that complement traditional industries - such as new markets revolving around online auctions - and the fact that those markets will benefit from greater online collaboration. Emmm, do we detect the faint smell of joss sticks, perchance?