OAuth: Open Authentication Comes Closer to Reality


The draft of the Open Authentication (OAuth) Spec is available for review. OAuth is a protocol for sharing information on a service without giving out that service’s credentials to the asking party. In other words, it lets sites like Flickr (who already does this) let other sites and applications access its users photos without them having to provide their username and password to the asking site. I never like giving up my credentials to another site, but everytime I test out a new social network it is very tempting despite the risks.

The spec was developed by representatives from Pownce, Twitter, SixApart (who also recently made a move towards opening their social graph; Radar post), Jaiku, Flickr, Ma.gnolia,Google, Citizen Agency and others.

This passage from the spec explains their goals:

The OAuth protocol enables websites or applications (Consumers) to access Protected Resources from a web service (Service Provider) via an API, without requiring Users to disclose their Service Provider credentials to the Consumers. More generally, OAuth creates a freely-implementable and generic methodology for API authentication.

An example use case is allowing printing service printer.example.com (the Consumer), to access private photos stored on photos.example.net (the Service Provider) without requiring Users to provide their photos.example.net credentials to printer.example.com.

OAuth does not require a specific user interface or interaction pattern, nor does it specify how Service Providers authenticate Users, making the protocol ideally suited for cases where authentication credentials are unavailable to the Consumer, such as with OpenID.

OAuth aims to unify the experience and implementation of delegated web service authentication into a single, community-driven protocol. OAuth builds on existing protocols and best practices that have been independently implemented by various websites. An open standard, supported by large and small providers alike, promotes a consistent and trusted experience for both application developers and the users of those applications.

Personally, I am tired of being asked by websites to enter my credentials to GMail, Hotmail, AIM, Yahoo! Mail, etc. I don’t like the idea of giving away that information. Not because I think that they will do something wrong with that information (though the quetchup certainly has proven that to be a faulty assumption after spamming people’s address books), but because sharing credentials makes them less secure. OAuth is an important step in letting us have control of our internet identities. Give the producers feedback and then support it. Please!

Updated: Added Flickr and Magnolia to the representatives working on OAuth