The truly interesting thing though is a quote in the AOL piece from a Gartner analyst. Therein the analyst says that they expect "ISPs and and Search companies" to launch similar offerings. In light of that quote, let's be clear where all of this *could* be going.
It is a *very* small step between being an Internet Service Provider that offers service to "secure" your identity, and an Internet Service Provider that becomes an "identity provider." Now, of course, in some sense, they already are identity providers -- but not in a "cross-silo" world.
You see, the big conundrum facing the Internet's largest players is how to deal with the silos of identity. My Yahoo identity doesn't work on eBay. My Earthlink-secured (hypothetical) identity can't bring my portable reputation into MySpace. The silos of identity are the grand currency of the Internet playground. All of Google's efforts are aimed at aggregating more and more bits of people's identity. Same goes for eBay, Yahoo, MySpace, etc -- their value lies in the protected silo of personal identity.
So what happens in a "silo'd" world? Dealmakers make deals, that's what. The Earthlinks of the world align with the Yahoos and the Microsofts against the Googles and eBays. We don't lose the silos. Instead, we turn the Internet into a few large "walled gardens" that provide identity portability within their deal-made walls.
And how does this all happen? Service providers secure our identities, and then they make deals, that's how.
Bottom line: Its all a very plausible possibility. Its certainly not "Web 2.0"-ish, but then again, we've all been questioning exactly what that means (open-ness?) lately anyway, right?
Update: John Panzer of AOL (who points out that he doesn't speak for the company) points us to his blog and a presentation he recently gave that argues identity should be user-centric, open and portable.