Intel has blinked in the growing controversy over its plans to include ID technology in its new chips. Even as several advocacy groups were calling for a boycott of Intel products, the company announced it is backtracking in how the technology, which could be used to track chip users over the Internet, will be deployed.
Several privacy groups were scheduled to announce on Monday a boycott of products made by Intel. The boycott was called by the Washington-based Electronic Privacy Information Center, a consumer advocacy group, and Junkbusters Inc., of Green Brook, N.J., a high-tech lobbying group.
Intel announced last week that it would put several security features in future processors, starting with the Pentium III later this quarter. One plan is to put processor-specific IDs on each chip that can be accessed by software and transmitted over the Internet. "Intel's proposal to put a unique ID code inside of every computer it sells will significantly reduce the level of privacy available to computer users around the world" JunkBusters said in a statement on their Web site.
But in an apparent bow to its critics, Intel announced Monday a change in how the ID technology will be used. Spokesman Chuck Mulloy said Intel has reversed an earlier decision, and that each machine will default to having the ID inactive. Before, Intel said the ID would automatically be activated unless turned off by the user. Still, early shipments of the chips will be still have the earlier configuration, meaning users will have to opt out manually. An EPIC spokesman said the boycott will continue until more assurances come from Intel addressing privacy concerns. Intel has pushed the tracking technology as a way to foster e-commerce and other online activities. Companies could require remote users to use the technology, while banks may offer more features to its customers that have processor IDs turned on. The ID could also help enable the ultimate in software copy protection, tying applications to a specific machine.
But groups including the American Civil Liberties Union raised red flags over the technology, saying it could be used to track consumers over the Internet. Intel has said it has no plans to match the processor IDs with names in a database. Boycott organisers will introduce a parody of Intel's famous "Intel Inside" advertising campaign, but this one called, "Big Brother Inside."
JunkBusters said it will work with other interested parties "to raise awareness of the risks of the feature, and why it is worth persuading Intel to disable it."
The boycott will be extended to other companies that use similar technology, the group said. On Friday, Rep. Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., wrote a letter to Intel CEO Craig Barrett, suggesting the ID technology be rethought "to better balance both commercial and privacy objectives".