The passwordless future of AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile is over

The passwordless future of AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile is over

The passwordless future of AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile is over

Originally announced as “Project Verify” in 2018, ZenKey was intended to be a single sign-on system, similar to signing in with Google or Apple buttons you see on various websites. The idea was that every carrier would offer an app that could verify your identity and then act as a passport when you log into a supported site or do something like a bank transfer. In theory, it could be more secure as it uses data from your SIM card and location to make sure you’re really trying to log in.

However, it doesn’t seem like ZenKey has gotten very far, and now it’s mostly gone. easy reading reports that the website for it is down, AT&T stopped supporting it last year, and the ZenKey powered by Verizon app is no longer available in the app stores (at least in the US). T-Mobile’s website appears to have almost no references to the system as far as Google can find, although there is a mid-2020 article on its business website that mentions it.

For those familiar with the history of multi-carrier joint ventures, this result is not exactly a surprise. easy reading called it “Meet ZenKey: Telcos’ Doomed Single Sign-On Service” when announcing the service in 2019. The edgeDieter Bohn of , called ZenKey “the right idea from the wrong companies” when writing about the cross-carrier messaging initiative that attempted to replace SMS with the then-burgeoning RCS. He based his opinion on previous products like SoftCard, which aimed to compete with Google Wallet and Apple Pay. (It was about as good as CCMI, that is, not at all — although it probably didn’t help that when it launched in 2013 it was called “ISIS,” a name meant to mean something very bad to a lot of people ).

Ultimately, the usefulness of a service like ZenKey comes down to how much third-party support it gets — even if your app is great, most people won’t care if they can only use it to log in three or four locations. And why would developers add ZenKey to their websites when there are other options from Google, Apple, Amazon and Meta, all of which have their own single sign-on solution with accounts already in use? These would also likely have much better brand recognition when a user clicks on a login page.

Case in point, here are all the websites and apps that worked with ZenKey as of July 2022, according to a Wayback Machine archive of its now-defunct website:

Screenshot of a page that says

a:hover]:text-gray-63 text-gray-63 dark:[&>a:hover]:text-gray-bd dark:text-gray-bd dark:[&>a]:text-gray-bd [&>a]:shadow-underline-gray-63 [&>a:hover]:shadow-underline-black dark:[&>a]:shadow-underline-gray dark:[&>a:hover]:shadow-underline-gray”>Image: ZenKey via The Wayback Machine

A press release from late 2020 mentions that other companies like Proctorio and DocuSign “had plans to test the service or go live,” but it seems like that didn’t exactly work out.

While cell phone providers haven’t (predictably) been able to get rid of passwords, I hope they will eventually be a thing of the past. But getting rid of them will require a much harder push from a much larger group; maybe Passkeys, a FIDO-based passwordless authentication system being pushed by Apple, Google, Microsoft, and the like, will be the thing. But unless it’s widely adopted (which isn’t entirely certain), we’ll likely be stuck with the patchwork quilt of successful single sign-on options, password managers, and scattered sticky notes we know not to be using, but do it anyway.

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