OpenWallet seeks to open-source your digital wallet

Do you use a digital wallet? Would you like to use only one wallet instead of several of them? Then, the newly launched OpenWallet Foundation deserves your attention.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor
An open wallet on a table
Matthew Miller/ZDNET

At the Open Source Summit Europe in Dublin on Tuesday, the Linux Foundation announced the formation of the OpenWallet Foundation (OWF). The open what now, you ask? Is this an attempt to get me to donate money to the Linux Foundation? Nope. OpenWallet is a brand-spanking-new open-source project to support interoperability for a wide range of digital wallets.

A few years ago, the phrase digital wallet would also be a mystery to most of us. Digital wallets, such as Apple Pay, Google Pay, and Samsung Pay, are rapidly replacing credit cards and cash for purchases both in the real world and online. 

Digital wallets aren't just about contactless payment, though. They're also replacing driver's licenses, boarding passes, and even library cards. Everything you used to do from the wallet in your back pocket can be done now from digital wallets.

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Note I said "wallets," not "wallet." Today, you need one wallet for one job, another to do some other task, and so on. Daniel Goldscheider, OpenWallet's founder, explained in his keynote speech that the OWF wants to address this issue.

But "the OWF is not going to publish a wallet. It's not going to issue credentials. It's not going to create standards. It is not trying to compete with the OpenID Foundation or The Open Identity Exchange (OIX) for identification trust," Goldscheider said. "Instead, we will use these standards to build a common-core shared software that anyone can use in their wallets."

The goal? To enable all digital wallets to be interoperable. The OWF also wants all wallets to be secure (of course!) and to be multipurpose. 

Goldscheider suggested, "When you think about OWF, an analogy you can use is how no matter what web browser you use -- Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge, or Mozilla Firefox -- you've taken advantage of browser engines such as Blink or Gecko. 

"And these browser engines support many standards, so you can have an easy web browsing experience no matter which browser you use. OWF wants to do that, so no matter what e-wallet you use, you can use it at any digital wallet point-of-sale or contact."

Organizations and companies can then use this open-source software engine to build their own digital wallets. Or, existing digital wallet backers can adopt OWF software to improve their wallets. In either case, OWF-enabled wallets will support use cases from identity to payments to digital keys. The aim will be to make it so that new OWF wallets will have all the features of the proprietary software-based wallets.

Companies such as Accenture, Avast, and CVS Health are already backing OWF. As CVS Executive Director of Technology Research & Innovation Robert Samuel said, "Providing secure identity and validated credential services are key for enabling a high-assurance health care service. OWF could contribute a key role in promoting the deployment of highly effective secure digital health care systems."

OWF isn't ready yet to try: This project is still in the concept stage. There isn't even any alpha software available yet. That said, given the track record of open-source projects catching up to and overtaking proprietary programs, I have no doubt you'll soon be using OWF software in your e-wallet.

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