Intel: Privacy is our concern as well

PC chip giant Intel Corp. has confirmed reports that it would start shipping processors with embedded serial numbers, starting with the Pentium III later this quarter.

"There are two elements here: Security and privacy," said Howard High, spokesman for the chipmaker. "Security is inherently good, but at the cost of some privacy." The chip ID plan is expected to make e-commerce more secure, but has privacy advocates worried that anonymity on the Internet might be at risk.

Intel vice president and general manager Pat Gelsinger gave some details of the initiative during a late-morning keynote address on Wednesday at the RSA Data Security Conference in San Jose, California Wednesday. Intel is slated to hold a full briefing on the new technology today (US time).

Yet, the ramifications of the technology has Intel so worried that it had been glad-handing privacy groups to explain the details of the initiatives. "We're trying to work with the privacy groups," said High. "They felt generally pretty comfortable about what we are doing; they felt we were being quite open with our plans." According to High, Intel has ensured that companies that intend to track a chip's ID number will have to notify a user that they are doing so. In addition, the PC chip giant will provide a software patch that will turn off the function and restore anonymous browsing to the user.

Still, concerns remain. "[This plan] allows for a means of tracking individuals on the Net," said Barry Steinhardt, associate director of the American Civil Liberties Union, who was briefed by Intel. "It does have potential problems."

One concern: Companies may find verifying its customers to be so useful that it will only do business with non-anonymous users. Others worry that once the ID is on, it is on for the duration that a user browses the Web -- that could let some sites have unintended access to the user's identity.

Yet, Intel's High explained that the company is working with software makers to add extra protection and choices to the new technology. "Software vendors -- like Netscape -- can add software protection to limit access to your information," he said, adding that Intel will not force any company to follow privacy guidelines.

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