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


Initially introduced as “Challenge Confirm” in 2018, ZenKey was meant to be a single sign-on system, just like the sign up with Google or Apple buttons that you simply see on varied web sites. The thought was that every provider would supply an app that might confirm your identification, 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 concept, it may very well be safer as a result of it used knowledge out of your SIM card and site to ensure it was actually you making an attempt to log in.

It doesn’t appear to be ZenKey obtained very far although, and now it’s largely disappeared. LightReading stories that the web site for it’s down, AT&T stopped supporting it final 12 months, and the “ZenKey powered by Verizon” app is not out there in app shops (not less than within the US). T-Cell’s web site appears to have nearly no references to the system so far as Google can discover, although there may be one article from mid-2020 on its enterprise website that mentions it.

To those that are aware of the historical past of multi-carrier joint ventures, this consequence isn’t essentially a shock. LightReading known as it when the service was introduced in 2019, working the headline “Meet ZenKey: Telcos’ Doomed Single Signal-On Service.” The Verge’s Dieter Bohn known as ZenKey “the suitable thought from the unsuitable firms” when he wrote concerning the Cross-Provider Messaging Initiative that tried to switch SMS with the then-burgeoning RCS. He primarily based 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 in no way — although it most likely didn’t assist that when it launched in 2013 it was known as “ISIS,” a reputation that was about to imply one thing very dangerous to lots of people).

Ultimately, the usefulness of a service like ZenKey goes to depend on how a lot third-party help 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 resolution with accounts folks already use? These would additionally probably have significantly better model recognition when a consumer hits a login web page.

Living proof: listed below are all of the websites and apps that labored with ZenKey in July 2022, in line 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 particular person be signed up for?
Picture: ZenKey through The Wayback Machine

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

Even when the cell carriers (predictably) weren’t capable of eliminate passwords, I do hope that they ultimately change into a factor of the previous. However eliminating them would require a a lot tougher push from a a lot greater 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 probably 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.