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Sunday, April 14, 2024

Apple, Google, and Microsoft Team Up to Vanquish the Password

We’ve been promised the end of password-based logins on the internet for a very long time, but now it seems that promise may finally be fulfilled.

The FIDO Alliance, an industry group aimed at standardizing authentication methods online, announced that its passwordless sign-on method has received support from the big browser builders: Apple, Microsoft, and Google. That means that later this year you will be able to sign in to your various web accounts across the internet without using a password in all the major browsers.

If you use a modern smartphone, you’ll recognize how this works. Instead of asking you to enter a password, websites will push a notification to your phone that prompts you to verify your identity. You just authenticate using the same method you normally use to unlock your phone. That could be entering a PIN, using your phone’s fingerprint sensor, or using its face unlock system. FIDO’s passkey system alternatively lets you use one of your other existing devices to authenticate by sending the unlock request to that device using Bluetooth. So as long as you have your phone, laptop, or iPad nearby, you can log in with this method anywhere.

Some apps and websites offer a biometric authentication option already, but in most cases, you must have an existing account (that you created with a password) in order to activate the biometric alternative. FIDO’s system would allow you to use the biometric option from the start, meaning you’ll never need to even come up with a password to create an account. It’s also important to note that this passkey system doesn’t replace two-factor authentication; it just replaces the password in a standard authentication flow.

The FIDO Alliance published a white paper in March outlining this concept, but the announcement that the big browser makers had pledged support came this week in celebration of World Password Day.

Actually killing the password entirely is a tricky, complicated prospect, given that they’ve been the de facto way of verifying your identity on the internet for decades, and many people will be loath to give up the comfortable and familiar method of logging in. Still, having the big browsers on board with this new method is a huge step. May we never have to type out nAsC4rr0xx420! ever again.

Here’s some other shiny gadget news.

Hey, Sonos

According to a story from The Verge, Sonos is getting its own voice assistant. Starting June 1, Sonos’ service will join the ranks of Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana, and Samsung’s … Bixby? That’s what they call it, right? Samsung Bixby? Ha ha, OK. Bixby.

Anyway, Sonos’ voice features will reportedly be focused on music, as opposed to an omniscient assistant that can tell you the weather or help you mix a cocktail. That said, not all the big music services are on board quite yet. Sonos Voice (or whatever it’s going to be called) is set to work with Apple Music, Amazon Music, Pandora, and Sonos Radio, of course. But the big one, Spotify, isn’t a part of it yet.

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The assistant will be activated with the very creative “Hey, Sonos” wake phrase. If you’re excited about the prospect of shouting at yet another device, here’s WIRED’s guide to the best Sonos speakers.

Ride-Sharing With Randos

Do you miss the days when hailing a ride often meant cramming into the backseat with a couple of drunk strangers? Well, you’re in luck. Lyft announced it is bringing shared rides back to its platform this month. Lyft and Uber canceled these kinds of services during the outset of the pandemic, but as mask mandates and Covid restrictions expire, the cheaper, chummier ride option has returned.

Lyft rejiggered its shared rides last summer in Philadelphia and Miami. The program will soon be available in San Francisco, San Jose, Denver, Las Vegas, and Atlanta, with more states to follow later this year. Uber did the same thing back in November, under the moniker UberX Share, though that has been available only in limited areas.

Lyft says shared rides will be optional for drivers, meaning drivers can forego the pickups without incurring a penalty, at least through the rest of 2022.

WhatsApp Gets Swole

WhatsApp announced some new features within its latest update this week. The app now supports emoji reactions to messages and has bumped up the maximum file size of uploads to 2 gigabytes. (Previously the limit had been 100 MB.) Also, WhatsApp expanded its maximum group size, now enabling up to 512 people to be in one group thread. Good luck with all those notifications.

Me, I’m a Part of Your Circle of Friends

Twitter also announced that it is testing a new feature called Circle. It’s akin to Instagram’s Close Friends option in that it lets you limit the visibility of a post to a select group. Twitter will let you designate up to 150 accounts per Circle. Anyone outside of that group won’t be able to see the tweet.

150 also happens to be Dunbar’s number, which is the theory that there is a maximum number of close contacts humans can have stable social relationships with (aka the monkeysphere).

Speaking of Twitter …

Kara Swisher on Twitter and Elon Musk

If you’re looking for a spicy take on Twitter, your best bet is consulting journalist and entrepreneur Kara Swisher. This week, Swisher joins the Gadget Lab podcast for a high-energy conversation about Twitter, Silicon Valley politics, and how history will remember Elon Musk.

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