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AMD, Congo, and the perils of code names

AMD moves to retire "Congo" code name quickly after bloggers complain about link to country suffering epidemic of sexual violence and war.

Elinor Mills Former Staff Writer
Elinor Mills covers Internet security and privacy. She joined CNET News in 2005 after working as a foreign correspondent for Reuters in Portugal and writing for The Industry Standard, the IDG News Service and the Associated Press.
Elinor Mills
3 min read

Militias fighting over control of minerals used in electronic devices like mobile phones and laptops are systematically brutalizing and killing civilians in the the Congo. Mark Craemer

When Advanced Micro Devices came up with the name of "Congo" for its new dual-core chip targeting ultra-thin devices executives were thinking of the river in Africa, following the company's practice of naming mobile projects after rivers.

But some bloggers who monitor humanitarian crises and conflicts in Africa blasted the chipmaker for using the name of a country where civilians are dying and brutalized in a conflict over natural resources like tin, tungsten, and coltan that end up in electronics equipment like computers and mobile phones.

The Congo is "the place where trade in minerals vital to technology like ultra-thin laptops is fueling the deadliest conflict in the world," writes David Sullivan on his Enough blog.

The site has named the African country the most dangerous place in the world to be a female because of the epidemic of sexual violence that has been going on there for years.

A post on the Congo Resources blog says: "Nicknaming their product after the Congo--well, that takes chutzpah."

The cause was also taken up by a Daily Kos blogger who sent a letter of complaint to AMD Chief Executive Dirk Meyer last week.

Contacted for comment this week, AMD spokesman John Taylor said the company "truly regrets" causing any offense, even unintentionally. "It was an oversight not to see that (the code name) could be viewed in an entirely different context," he said.

AMD began using the name "2nd Generation Ultrathin Platform" instead of Congo as part of a natural pre-launch naming transition, Taylor said. "The Daily Kos blog helped finalize and expedite a process that was already in motion," he added. "We're striving for that codename to be retired."

This isn't the first time a tech company has been bitten by a product name. In 2003, Intel was forced to change the code name of a planned Itanium chip from Tanglewood to Tukwila to avoid a trademark dispute with the Tanglewood Music Center in Massachusetts.

Microsoft ran into problems with the name of its new search engine, Bing, in China after finding out that the word has several meanings in Mandarin, including "to be ill." As a result, the Chinese version of Bing has been named "biying," which means "must respond," according to The Wall Street Journal.

In 1994, Apple had a notorious dispute with Carl Sagan after he complained about Apple code-naming the Power Macintosh 7100 after him. Apple changed the code name first to "Butt-Head Astronomer" and then "LAW" for "Lawyers Are Wimps" before settling a libel lawsuit with the famous astronomer, according to The Mac Observer.

And then, of course, there is the trouble Apple got in over the company name itself. Apple Inc. and Apple Corps Ltd., the record label started by the The Beatles in 1968, finally reached an agreement in 2007 to settle their trademark dispute.

Update 8:25 p.m. PST:Taylor later added that "AMD has been a member of the Electronics Industry Citizenship Coalition (EICC) since 2006. As part of our supply chain management process, we set expectations annually with our top tier suppliers regarding adherence to our Worldwide Standards of Business Conduct and the EICC Code of Conduct. We are actively monitoring the conflict minerals issue as well as proposed legislation in the U.S. Congress. The EICC is currently researching the extractive metals supply chain (specifically tin, tantalum, and cobalt) as it relates to the electronics industry. We will continue to monitor this relevant issue and its potential effects."