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Remembering passwords may soon be a thing of the past

 

Two things caught my eye amidst all that clutter of year-end “best” lists. The first is a soon-to-be-released smartphone application that has the potential of ridding us of one of the biggest painpoints of digital life – passwords.

The other was that photo sharing application, Instagram, which has been in the news for the past one month or so, for one reason or the other, was reportedly planning to sell photographs uploaded by its members.
 
In a sense, it’s the story of two smartphone apps. The first is about to happen, the second, though denied by the app in question, is linked to a larger issue. I shall talk of the first, first.
 
I am sure if a snap poll were to be taken on ‘Name the top 5 problems you face in digital life’, a password-oriented online eco-system will find its way to top of that list. Almost everything that we do in our lives today is linked to a password. By that I mean any transaction, online or offline. Online bank transfers, use of social networks, email accounts, bank accounts, for that matter, any form of online payment system….I could go on. 
 
Well, the next thing that all of us were grappling with – how do we remember all those dashes, upper cases, asterix, not to mention, numbers and other assorted zombie characters.
 
One does realize that passwords are for secure transactions and in our interests. But how many can a single human brain retain in its inner, memory recesses? There are some services and applications that provide you with a “secure” digital vault where you can store all your passwords…and to operate this account, you need….yup, one more password. A kind of single passwords to “recall” all your other passwords. But what happens if some hacker gets through this account, you are jacked.
 
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Now, a team of young entrepreneurs have decided to do something about this .Wow. Possible? Not many would have thought so before these guys thought up of LaunchKey, an application for iPhone and Android devices. Actually, passwords will remain under this but the way you use them to verify your account, shall change.
 
LaunchKey proposes to do away with the keying in of passwords in the login section. Instead, it gets down to physically verifying you are who you claim you are, and the true owner of the account you are trying to access.
 
Here’s how LaunchKey will work – Once you have downloaded the app on your phone, every time you try to log in into any of your online accounts, be what they may, you will get a message on your smartphone asking you to physically authenticate that transaction. All you then need to do is press the ‘Launch’ tab, which in turn, shall send a message to the account you are trying to login to, verifying your identity, allowing you to login. Simple.
 
I see many advantages to this: No need to remember any more passwords, a much more secure method of conducting your business ( since all the passwords, in a sense, will be on the phone you carry in your pocket) and instant alerts when some hacker is trying to get into your account.
 
These guys have already won some awards and got funding and promise that the app will be coming in the market soon. Till then, anyone who wants to read more or keep track of what I think could turn out to be a game-changer, can go to the LaunchKey website.
 
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While my website was reporting on LaunchKey came the news that another photo sharing
smartphone app, Instagram, was reportedly planning to sell photographs uploaded by its users. I am not too sure how this bit of news started doing the rounds, online. Here’s one such report by www.beforeitsnews.com . Quoting CNET, it says that a new intellectual property rights policy put into place by social network, Facebook, which acquired Instagram, some three months ago, and which will come into effect from January 16, 2013, allows Instagram and FB, perpetual rights to licence all public Instagram photos to companies or any other organizations, including for advertising purposes. This means, Instagram would instantly turn into one gigantic stock photo agency.
 
These reports were enough to cause a furore, and rightly so, I feel. Let us understand what Instagram is all about. To cut a long story short, it’s all about using filters on the photographs you shoot using your phone’s in-built camera. This app allows you to add different digital layers to make your photo look as if it’s shot by a professional. That’s the sum and summary of it.
 
Instagram publicly has denied any such more. But if you were to ask me, the entire controversy is linked to a larger question – the implementation of privacy, copyright and intellectual property laws. At the heart of the debate is – who owns the content that is uploaded on to such platforms, say Instagram or Facebook or Twitter? 
 
This column may not be the right platform to discuss a problem of this magnitude but suffice to say, with the advent of social networks and applications such as Instagram, this is not the first time, or even the last, that we will hear of such a move.
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These kind of sites have been a challenge to laws pertaining to intellectual property, pushing the boundaries, every passing day. For example – why are the Terms & Conditions (T&C) written in such a way that the ordinary user understands none of it. How many of us even bother to look at the T & C posted on every website. Of that, how many of us understand the legalese? What choice do users have, at the end of the day? If you want to be on say a Facebook or Twitter, you must agree to their T&Cs, or else, not have an account. That’s hardly a choice.
 
Leave alone privacy, what, for example, is the status of all that content like images uploaded on social sites? Does it belong to the user or the network? Can anyone who is reading this column, answer that? If so, write in to us with your reply.
 
Previous columns by Sorab Ghaswalla
Sorab Ghaswalla
Sorab Ghaswalla
Sorab Ghaswalla is a journalist with near three decades of experience and has worked in well-known Indian and international print and television media organizations such as  The Times of India, The Hindustan Times, The Economic Times, The Indian Express, United News of India (UNI), The Gulf Today and India TV.
 
He has founded a Knowledge Services firm called New Age Content Services LLP, that leverages on the inherent strengths of the digital world. He also edits the website, www.whatsnewonthenet.com.
 
You can write to him at newagecontent@gmail.com
 
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