As Intel prepares for the Feb. 26 launch of its Pentium III processor, privacy groups are threatening to boycott Intel for putting a unique serial identification number on each chip; they're also asking the Federal Trade Commission to take action. The groups charge that the number on each Pentium III could be seen remotely by marketers or anyone else who might want to eavesdrop on a user's browsing habits.
Due to concerns by the Electronic Privacy Information Center and Junkbusters Corp., Intel decided two weeks ago that PC vendors could sell their systems with the processor ID turned off in a default mode. Users would then have the option to turn it on through controls in the operating system.
Intel gave each processor an ID number because of numerous requests from IS managers, a spokesman says. It is designed to help IS managers more easily keep track of PCs and identify remote users in large group communications over the Internet in instances where a password may have slipped into the wrong hands.
But the privacy groups are not pleased with the arrangement. "It's out of Intel's hands," says Jason Catlett, president of Junkbusters in Green Brook, N.J. "It's up to the PC manufacturers and Microsoft." Catlett, who is also encouraging other activist groups to lobby the FTC, is concerned that software makers will want the ID turned on for copyright protection. "Software would be installed for a particular machine," he says. "So if you move your hard drive to another machine, it won't run."
He also charges that it will be difficult for users to turn the ID off and on without rebooting. But Intel is promising a download that will solve that problem.