Adobe & the Cloud Signature Consortium Could Make E-Signatures as Common as PDFs

Adobe and the Cloud Signature Consortium hope to make e-signatures as common as PDFs.

Not so long ago, there was an open question as to the best file format for digital documents. Many people used PDF, but others used TIFF or Microsoft’s XPS format. In 2008, Adobe released the PDF format as an open specification. That was the key to PDF’s success. Now it is unquestionably the standard format for digital documents. (Although that isn’t always a good thing.)

Now, Adobe hopes to do the same thing for digital signatures. Right now, there are dozens (at least) of different approaches to e-signatures. Some accept a signature drawn onto a PDF with a pen tool. Others use a service like HelloSign. FileVine’s clever VineSign uses selfies for verification. Plus, there is Adobe’s own Sign (f/k/a EchoSign).

But there is no agreed standard for what constitutes a valid electronic signature. Now, several things are in motion to change that.

The Cloud Signature Consortium was founded by Adobe and others with the goal of creating standards around e-signature regulations like the European Union’s eIDAS. Under eIDAS and similar regulations, a valid e-signature must be verified by a trusted certificate authority, and this generally requires a proprietary system of cards and readers.

The CSC hopes to make digital signatures common by creating an open, cloud-friendly standard that works on the mobile and web apps everyone already has and uses, and doesn’t depend on proprietary software and hardware.

If all goes according to plan, the digital signature specification will be finished in 2016, after which anyone can start developing software and systems to take advantage of it.

In short, signing documents on a smartphone or tablet may soon be as common as smartphones and tablets.

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