American Express has been actively taking part in the project since its inception, but had not yet gone public with its involvement, said Marge Breya, vice-president of SunOne (Open Network Environment), one of Sun's divisions taking part in the Liberty Alliance. Thirteen other member companies are also remaining quiet about their participation, she added.
The Liberty Alliance Project has surfaced as a rival to Microsoft's Passport authentication service, the single sign-on technology that allows subscribers to visit participating Web sites without signing on to each of those sites.
Microsoft already suggested in September that it would consider joining the Alliance if the authentication platform it develops is based on an open standard.
Breya said Microsoft reaffirmed that stance in a conversation she had on 3 December with Charles Fitzgerald, the director of business strategy for Microsoft's platform strategy group. "He [Fitzgerald] confirmed that the company was considering membership," she said. "I really hope they will join."
If Microsoft linked its Passport system with the effort under way with Liberty Alliance, it would create a vast network of Web sites and services that would share a common technology for authenticating users.
Internet giant America Online recently announced that it would take part in the project, adding its 32m members to the fold.
Adding up the subscribers of each member company, the Liberty Alliance has more than one billion Internet users who would be able to travel the Web with a single identity and access Web sites and services from participating companies, Breya said.
If Microsoft added its Passport system to the group, it would add about 200 million more users.
Members of the Liberty Alliance have been meeting since 4 December to discuss the technical and business strategies behind the project.
No specifications of the shared authentication technology have yet been announced, and the group is not expected to publicly announce any details until the middle of 2002, Breya said.
"We do know that it must be a lightweight and pretty simple technology, so it can be a nice common denominator for all the members," she said. "It's got to be such that many different industries from wireless to financial services can make use of it."