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You are your smartphone

Mike Elgan | Oct. 27, 2015
How new apps and services are using your phone as a proxy for you.

smartphone mobile identity thinkstock 501916953

Yahoo last week unveiled a novel concept: Access to your Yahoo Mail account without a password.

What is a password, anyway?

If you think about it, a password is a way to authenticate a person. You create a chunk of random knowledge that only you know. Later, to prove you're you, you demonstrate mastery of that knowledge. Only you would know to type "corndog658" when prompted, so obviously you're authorized for access.

It's a great way to authenticate, at least until someone steals or guesses your password.

Yahoo's system, which it calls Account Key, works like this: Install the Account Key mobile app (the system works only with the smartphone app), log in with your username and password. Tap the profile icon and choose Settings. Tap Account Key and enable it. (This is the moment at which password authentication becomes phone device authentication.)

From that point on, you can simply access your Yahoo email from your phone without a password. According to Yahoo, when you try to check your Yahoo Mail from any device or desktop computer, you'll get a notification on your smartphone asking you to confirm that you are actually you.

What this means is that, as far as Yahoo is concerned, "you" aren't someone who can demonstrate a chunk of arbitrary knowledge. "You" are anyone with physical access to your smartphone. You ARE your smartphone, as far as Yahoo is concerned. Stated another way, the authenticated human is whichever person has access to the authenticated smartphone.

Welcome to the new identity. An increasing number of services don't care about your password, your signature or even your mailing address. If you've got the authenticated phone, you're you.

Shipping without addresses

Before cellphones, you could never really call a person directly. You called a place and hoped the person would be there. You dialed a building or location, then asked whoever answered: "Is Bob there?"

Now you just call Bob. You don't care where Bob is. You just call the phone, and because you expect Bob to have possession of said phone, you can call a person. The phone is Bob.

A similar change is happening to the act of sending packages. Right now, you don't send a package to a person, but to a place. You ship to a home or office, and expect the person to be there at some point to receive the package.

A startup called Shyp last week completely changed how packages are shipped. Instead of shipping to a place, you ship to a person -- no matter where the person is.

Right now, shipping a package to an address involves writing the exact address on the package. Sure, you put the name on the package. But the shipping company or post office doesn't care about that. They deliver to the number, street name, ZIP code and other place-specific information.


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