Mozilla Stops Developing ‘Persona’ Single Sign-On Service

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The project is handed over to the community as Mozilla focuses its attention on Firefox Accounts

The Mozilla Foundation has stopped the development of Persona open authentication system and handed it over to the community.

Persona, in development since 2011, enables universal sign-on capability on third-party websites, similar to that offered by Facebook and Twitter but without the need to compromise your privacy.

Despite heightened interest in privacy following the Edward Snowden disclosures, Persona failed to gain wide adoption. Mozilla will not be using the service in its own products, opting for the recently announced Firefox Accounts instead.

Persona non-grata

The Persona project, known as BrowserID until 2012, had set itself an ambitious goal to “eliminate passwords on the Web”. A secure website authentication mechanism, it uses email addresses as identifiers and focuses on privacy and browser integration. Once users open a Persona account, they can log into any website that supports the platform, without the need to share persoal details with individual sites.

badge-personaFacebook is tracking website visits through its comment system and “like” buttons in order to serve personalised advertising, and the same can be said about Google and Twitter. Meanwhile, Mozilla adheres to a strict code of ethics outlined in its manifesto, and doesn’t make any money from user data.

But on Friday, the organisation announced that it reallocated Persona’s full-time developers to other projects, including Firefox Accounts and Sync. Even though the single sign-on experiment was not a runaway success, Mozilla said that there are no plans to cancel Persona, and it will still provide tier 1 support, critical bug and security fixes.

In the future, Persona development will be led by long-term volunteers and former paid contributors. “Even in maintenance mode, we understand the importance of authentication and are committed to responsible stewardship of Persona. Should we ever consider decommissioning it, we will provide ample notice and a long deprecation window. This will absolutely not happen in 2014,” said Mozilla.

According to a detailed breakdown of the project posted on the Mozilla Wiki, Persona failed to get traction because it fell outside the Firefox project and couldn’t leverage the established user base and ample marketing resources. It did not appeal to the administrators of large websites who were tempted by services like Facebook Connect, which can offer additional incentives. Finally, Persona included several complex features that users did not need.

“Reducing the scope of Persona and stabilizing its core APIs over the last quarter has shown us that adding more features was not the way forward,” admitted Mozilla.

Now, the non-profit will dedicate more time and resources to Firefox Accounts, a service that enables Firefox users to easily control their settings and transfer passwords, bookmarks, history, and open tabs to any compatible devices (which could soon include TVs).

Mozilla says that where possible, Firefox Accounts and Persona will keep sharing infrastructure, protocols, data formats, and both server-side and client-side JavaScript libraries. Eventually, Firefox Accounts could use Persona for email verification.

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