The procedure known as ‘social login’, whereby users can register on third-party websites or sign up to apps and services by directly using existing identity information from their preferred social network without having to create a new login account, is being increasingly encouraged by web platforms ranging from e-commerce sites to newsletter services.

Surge in Social Login Gives Added Weight to Social Networks

With the exponential growth of m-commerce, the use of ‘social login’ is becoming increasing popular as a means of user authentication on new websites and for new apps and services. Of course, when a new user signs up, s/he may still be asked to supply extra hitherto unpublished or confidential information such as a bank account number. Mountain View-based Gigya, which creates specialised software for companies wishing to engage more closely with customers online, argues that enabling social login from the various social networks allows companies and organisations to reduce traffic costs while obtaining huge amounts of customer information and detailed user analysis through data mining. A recent Gigya report, which synthesises the data it has acquired on the social login phenomenon, reveals that Facebook has become the leading digital identity provider, helping to streamline Internet browsing at a time when confidentiality is becoming a key issue, although the popular social network was not originally designed to provide such functionality. The current surge in social logins, which makes registering for apps or paid-for services much easier, is also driving companies’ customer acquisition strategies.

Facebook the dominant social login tool

The Gigya report indicates that social login is now a central feature of today’s Internet traffic. Users who have already entered their details on Facebook, Google+ or other social networks no longer have to re-enter these details when logging in to a third-party site. Given its predominance among social networks, Facebook is best placed to help reduce the number of digital profiles and passwords which users – both individuals and companies – need to create. Facebook is the most used social network for registrations on many types of websites – e-commerce sites, blogs, educational platforms, and so on – boasting over 50% of social login preference compared with 30% for Google+ and 5% for Twitter. These ratios are pretty much the same when users use social login on their smartphones. However, authentication via Yahoo accounts has lost ground since the end of 2013, its total share of logins dipping 2% over this period.

Social login not yet a uniform worldwide phenomenon

The Gigya study goes some way to revealing the importance people in different countries place on privacy. In actual fact Facebook and Google+ are used proportionately less per head of population in wider Europe and the United States than in the developing countries, largely due to the lack of rival social networks in the developing world, which has allowed the giant US networks to corner the social media market. In a more subtle way, given the success of social networks inspired by Facebook in several of these countries – Renren in China, for example – the Gigya figures also reveal the superiority of Facebook and Google+ functionality over their local equivalents. In contrast with their ‘cloned’ versions, the two US giants have made great strides in enabling the social login approach, and in doing so have already gone way beyond the boundaries of what a social network was thought to be – for example forcing web page designers to make their login procedures uniform. The reason why e- and m-commerce sites are keen on identity authentication via Facebook also has a lot to do with the high-quality data they can obtain from it. In this era of Big Data the social login procedure allows them to collect ‘clean’ – i.e. very precise – data, which means they can target their customers much more accurately. Transaction costs can also be kept down with no adverse effect on the quality of the data obtained. Social login is of course not a brand-new means of increasing user engagement with a website or service: as long ago as 2011, according to a survey conducted by Portland, Oregon, US-based private technology company Janrain, fully 77% of all users preferred to use social login procedures.

By Simon Guigue