AOL will become a founding member of the 34-company Liberty Alliance Project. The group will hold a governance meeting later this week to map out the steps it plans to take to establish this new technology.
Sun Microsystems and several other computing giants joined mainstream businesses such as United Airlines, General Motors and Fidelity Investments to unveil the Liberty Alliance in late September.
"This provides a common language for authentication to ensure no one company controls the single authentication network," the AOL spokesman said.
The Liberty Alliance was established to create a common registration and transaction framework for Web sites. The Internet's heaviest hitters, including Microsoft, AOL, Amazon.com and Yahoo, currently have their own systems for handling Web registrations and e-commerce transactions.
AOL runs Screen Name Service, a registration technology that has signed on more than 100 partners, and Quick Checkout, a wallet technology that is available only in its network of sites.
Companies have expressed apprehension over Microsoft's interest in these technologies. Microsoft's Passport service is being implemented throughout its network of Web sites, such as its popular Hotmail e-mail service and its MSN.com portal. Microsoft has also integrated Passport into its latest operating system, Windows XP, and it will act as the central hub for its online services strategy, called .Net.
In an effort to allay privacy concerns, Microsoft in September said it plans to open up its Passport service to work with other authentication systems by using a security technology called Kerberos. Microsoft also is encouraging other companies, including its rivals, to adopt Kerberos.
AOL has begun developing its own project to take on Passport, dubbed Magic Carpet. But its decision to join the Liberty Alliance seems a direct attempt to shine the spotlight on Microsoft in the court of public opinion.
"It would be a positive step if Microsoft would join Liberty as well," the AOL spokesman said. "If they chose to do so, it would indicate they were moving away from leveraging their monopoly to control this new generation of services."
Microsoft has made similar claims in publicly criticizing AOL's resistance to joining industry efforts to create a common instant messaging standard.
Although identity services such as those being developed by Microsoft and the Liberty Alliance are marketed to consumers with the promise that they eliminate repetitive Web site registrations, a new Gartner survey suggests consumers aren't ready to trust such services in exchange for ease of use.
According to the researcher's August survey of 2,145 online U.S. adult consumers, some 95 percent of the respondents registered with Web sites, and more than half of them (54 percent) said they did so because it was a requirement of the site. Only 22 percent registered to save time, while 17 percent registered for personalized services, such as book suggestions tied to individual preferences.
"The sober truth is that although consumers are bothered by multiple user IDs and passwords, most consumers don't see much relative value in having one credential to navigate the Web," Avivah Litan, vice president and research director for Gartner, said in a statement.