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People put a lot of thought and work into having a universal login for the web, whether it’s from a single provider or something more decentralized like OpenID. But we don’t just authenticate ourselves on websites — we also buy things with credit cards, use tickets to get into events, and keys to unlock doors. An ambitious startup named Enole is trying to bring the spirit of OpenID to the mobile environment, by creating a proximity-based platform that developers can build on to get devices to carry their owner’s identity. (The company doesn’t actually have a relationship with OpenID, but it seems like a helpful comparison.)
Enole’s “universal sign-on for the world” API has been live since December, and the first implementations are coming out now. Co-founder Kurt Collins came by our office yesterday and showed me a few examples: In one called Viploc, a Mac is set to lock itself when it’s not in Bluetooth range of its owner’s mobile phone. So when the phone is not present (or its Bluetooth is turned off), the computer logs out of its current session. In another demo, an iPad app called ZapCash, users can send each other money when they are in proximity of each other. This will also work with near-field communications (NFC) chips as they’re rolled out to more phones.
Collins said he is also working on projects with the antivirus provider AVG for a security product, with Hasbro and Disney (s dis) on a social media campaign around Mr. Potato Head, with a physical retailer on personalized recommendations and services, and with a music vendor on ticketing for a festival. The company currently powers authentication for the dating site Pickv, whose CEO Christina Brodbeck is an angel investor in Enole.
Rather than requiring a mobile app to be installed, Enole uses a unique identifier associated with a phone, such as a Bluetooth ID or MAC address. The company offers developers a REST-based API for identity and authentication using secure sockets layer encrypted transport and public key infrastructure (PKI). And to ensure reliability, Enole has also developed a way to use DNS to authenticate a user’s token should its servers be down.
Enole is jointly based in San Francisco and New York, with six employees who have backgrounds at companies such as Photobucket, Protocall and Clearspring. Advisors include Brodbeck, who was an early employee at YouTube, Jake Fuentes, who works in product development at Visa, and Erick Tseng, head of mobile at Facebook.
Mobile authentication will be a hard problem for a little guy to solve, and the biggies are giving it a hard look as well. (Indeed, Verizon has announced plans to offer “identity as a service.”) But at least it’s a good problem to solve.
For more on NFC and related topics, see my recent GigaOM Pro piece (sub req’d): A Mobile Payments Glossary