Google advances Android password-killer: due this year

Google’s score-based system that it hopes will replace passwords for apps should be available to all Android developers by the end of the year.

Passwords are a pain. Even if you figure out a system to create and remember secure passwords, typing them in before using an app or website can be a hassle.

Google on Friday said that its system for a password-free experience on Android will be available to developers by the end of the year, following testing at a number of big banks this June.

The promise would make good on a proposal Google announced a year ago under Project Abacus to end the dependence on passwords. The initiative came from ATAP (Advanced Technologies and Projects) division, a unit that Google inherited from Motorola Mobility and kept after selling the bulk of the hardware business to Lenovo in 2014.

Until last week, Google hadn’t said anything about Project Abacus however at its I/O developer conference last Friday, ATAP boss Dan Kaufman said that Google will begin testing its system with “very large financial institutions” in June.

“Assuming it goes well, this should become available to every Android developer around the world by the end of the year,” Kaufman said.

If all goes to plan, Google will release a Trust API to developers that will enable them to use Google’s scoring system and have users sign-in to apps without their username and password credentials.

ATAP last year outlined a plan to use all the sensors on a smartphone to build a “trust score” and determine whether the person holding the device is the authorised owner and if so, allow that person to use apps without having to type in a password.

The system encompassed by Project Abacus develops a trust score based on a variety of signals derived from a smartphone’s GPS, accelerometer, camera and microphone.

These sensors can be used to determine the user’s location, “bio-signs”, such as how a person types, or how a person moves when walking, as well as proximity to other devices connected over Bluetooth.

Abacus would enable similar functions to Apple’s Touch ID fingerprint scanner without requiring users to register fingerprints with a device.

If Google’s system was confident the holder of a device is the rightful owner, apps wouldn’t require a password.

If it wasn’t confident, it would revert to the standard username/password authentication. Also, Google could tune the system to apps with different risk profiles, so that gaming apps might not require a high level of confidence while banking apps would.

Back then, few Android phones had a built-in fingerprint scanner, and Google boasted it would be superior to fingerprint scanners and could be deployed with a software update.

Fast-forward to today, and now a handful of new Android phones have been equipped with fingerprint scanners, and so Google might not need the technology.

On the other hand, only high-end Android phones have the additional sensor, so it could still be beneficial.

Ars Technica earlier this year speculated the key factor likely holding back Project Abacus was the smartphone battery.

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