Facing criticism over privacy issues, Intel
Corp. reversed itself and promised it will disable a new technology
that helps identify consumers as they move across the Internet.
Customers can use software to activate the technology in its
upcoming line of Pentium III computer processors, Intel spokesman
Chuck Mulloy said Monday.
Intel, the world's largest computer chip-maker with $26.2
billion in sales last year, announced last week that its newest
Pentium chip would by default transmit its unique serial number
internally and to Web sites that requested it to help verify a
But hours after privacy groups organized a boycott Monday, Intel
said it will provide software that turns off the feature by default
in future copies of its Pentium III processors, not yet distributed
to the world's computer makers.
The company also promised to offer the software to owners of
existing Pentium III chips already in production, making it easy to
permanently turn off the technology.
Intel won't need to redesign its chips.
The concession came only hours after a boycott was announced in
Washington by privacy groups, which launched a campaign complete
with a parody of the company's ubiquitous "Intel Inside" logo.
Theirs featured the familiar swirl but with the words, "Big
"This acknowledges that consumers want Intel inside their
computer, not inside their private lives," said Rep. Ed Markey,
D-Mass., who urged Intel last week to reconsider its plans.
Intel's reversal saves the company the risk of a protracted,
ugly fight with consumers over privacy reminiscent of the
company's awkward handling in 1994 of an obscure math flaw in its
original Pentium chips.
At the time, Intel initially required outraged customers to
justify their need for a replacement Pentium but weeks later
reversed course and offered free replacements, along with an
apology from its chairman.
Last week, Intel said its new technology could be turned off but
was reactivated whenever the computer was restarted. But on Monday,
the company said that was a misunderstanding: The Pentium's ability
to transmit its serial number is, in fact, reactivated, but the
software "switch" still disables the feature until the consumer
chooses to use the technology.
Among other things, the technology offers a boon for electronic
commerce, allowing companies and shoppers to feel more secure in
the transmission of sensitive data.
Privacy groups involved in the boycott said they were
"delighted that Intel has taken one small step toward respecting
people's privacy," but said the boycott will continue until they
see the details.
"You still have the problem of an ID number, and Web sites can
force people to disclose that ID number as a condition to get into
the sites," said David Banisar, an attorney with the
Washington-based Electronic Privacy Information Center.
The privacy information center organized the boycott with
Junkbusters Corp. of Green Brook, N.J., which lobbies on a range of
The Federal Trade Commission, which last year pressed for a law
that prohibits Web sites from collecting personal information from
children without parental permission, said the Intel debate
"highlights consumer concerns about how confidential is various
information for them."
"This will certainly resonate on Capitol Hill and with the
administration," said Jodie Bernstein, director of the FTC's
consumer protection bureau.