Winner Take All

“Winner Take All” Three Party Model

A special case of the three party model where the service provider wants to allow the requester to use an existing identity, but only accepts authentication from a defined set of providers. Participants sign an agreement with the identity provider, which also allows them to talk to one another.

Examples: Apple completely controls the channel between app vendors and iPhone users, deciding which applications are available and which users are allowed to use them. Spotify and Zynga games depend upon Facebook for authentication.

When to Use: The service provider wants to take part in a large, established channel, or requires a high level of assurance.

Advantages: The requester can use an existing identity, which lowers the amount of effort required to use a new service. The service provider gets access to the users of an identity network without having to manage the accounts itself. Some identity providers offer higher security than the service could practically provide on its own.

Large three-party model identity providers like Facebook, Google, and PayPal dedicate substantial resources to security.

Disadvantages: Because participants can only interact if they have been authenticated by a single identity provider, that provider wields substantial power.  The identity provider effectively controls the requester’s ability to use other company’s products. For instance, a requester who loses their account with the identity provider also loses all of the services where they used that identity. If you use your Facebook to sign in to other products then you also lose those other products if your Facebook account is closed.

Conversely, a service provider that depends on a single third party identity provider leaves themselves open to the third party deciding to change its terms.

Ability to Scale: Difficult to get started because it is only interesting to service providers when it has consumers, but only interesting to consumers if it can offer interesting services.  Once they are established and functioning, however, a successful identity provider can build  a very large network.