Intel disables chip ID tracking

There was a firestorm of protest when Intel put ID-tracking technology in Pentium III chips. Now it's obsolete and being removed

Intel says it plans to remove the controversial processor-ID technology from its next-generation PC processor and from future processors, ending a year-long battle with privacy advocates over the invasive technology. "We made the decision earlier this year," said George Alfs, a spokesman for Intel said Thursday. "We are not planning for (the chip ID) in our next processor." Alfs said the rise of digital-signature technology has made the need for chip IDs obsolete. As first reported on ZDNet News more than a year ago, the inclusion of the chip ID in the Pentium III processor touched off a heated controversy with privacy advocates denouncing the technology as an attempt to track users on the Internet. Originally, Intel intended to ask PC makers to ship machines with the processor ID "on" -- that is, accessible to software -- but later changed tack by supplying a utility to customers to turn the feature on and off. Still not satisfied, however, privacy advocates and policy analysts called for a boycott of the chip maker. The boycott may have gone a long way to decide the issue, said Jason Catlett, president of pro-privacy Junkbusters. "The thing that I am very glad didn't happen was for the feature to go into the food chain of the operating system, browser and e-commerce sites. The boycott probably cut off a lot of the proliferation that could have happened." Intel, however, said privacy arguments were less of a factor in the decision than digital-signature technology. "The technology has moved quite quickly," Alfs said. "With digital signatures you can do a lot of the functions that we had envisioned doing with the processor serial number." Its uses could have included authenticating customers for e-commerce, secure network management and secure email. However, some security experts and privacy advocates said the chip could not really add such security features at all. "Unfortunately, it doesn't do any of these things," wrote Bruce Schneier, president of Counterpane Internet Security in a ZDNet column. "If a remote Web site queries a processor ID, it has no way of knowing whether the number it gets back is a real ID or a forged ID." Intel won't stop adding security features, however. Its current motherboard chip sets include a random-number generator, which helps strengthen software encryption on the PC. That will stay, Alfs said. Don't look for any more boycotts, however. Privacy proponents love stronger encryption. What do you think? Tell the Mailroom. And read what others have said.
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