The Federal Trade Commission this week met with privacy groups
to discuss the implications of the controversial serial code that is part of Intel's Pentium III chip.
FTC staff members met with
representatives from advocacy groups to discuss the privacy implications of
the serial code hardwired into every Pentium III processor. The meeting was
prompted by a complaint filed by the Center
for Democracy and Technology and supported by a number of privacy
advocacy groups, including the American
Civil Liberties Union and Junkbusters.
"It was nothing out of the ordinary," said Ari Schwartz, senior policy
analyst with the CDT. "They wanted to talk about the complaint, and were
asking questions about the complaint."
At the meeting, which took place Monday, privacy representatives
were asked whether the chip and its serial code posed substantial harm to
consumers, if the feature could easily be avoided by consumers, and if the
harm posed by the serial code was not outweighed by countervailing
benefits, said Jason Catlett, president of Junkbusters.
FTC staff were "very familiar" with the technology and policy issues
surrounding the processor, he said. The FTC "realizes the urgency of the
complaint," Schwartz agreed. "Clearly they think there are issues--we are
optimistic that things will move forward."
An FTC spokesperson said that the agency has
not launched an investigation at this time. "We did receive a complaint,
and we did have a meeting with a number of different privacy groups," said
Victoria Streitfeld, spokesperson for the FTC. "We're in the process of
reviewing," those complaints, and "seriously considering," whether to go
forward with a formal investigation.
Intel declined to comment on Monday's meeting, but confirmed that the
company has previously met with the FTC to discuss the implications of the
Pentium III serial code. Intel stressed that the meetings with the FTC were
totally unrelated to the FTC's antitrust investigation, which was tentatively settled today.
"We have a continuing dialogue on a variety of issues," said George Alfs,
an Intel spokesman. "There is no investigation, it's an open dialogue. The
FTC is trying to get the facts," he said.
Intel included the identification feature to provide an extra layer of
security for ecommerce transactions and to aid corporate technology
managers who must track computers in large organizations, according to the
Privacy issues have come to the forefront in the last few weeks, as Intel
attempted to deflect criticism about the Pentium III, and Microsoft put out fires on several
privacy fronts. The software company acknowledged privacy lapses
in Windows 98 that resulted in user information being transmitted to
Microsoft without the user's consent.
The privacy groups are asking that the government enjoin Intel from
producing anymore Pentium III chips, although advocates agree that this
remedy is unlikely because Pentium III computers are already shipping.
Intel has also said it wants to include similar features on new processors,
and has recently
admitted it included a prototype of the serial code in some of its
chips for notebooks.
Catlett said another option may be to compel Intel to ship two versions of
processors, one with the serial code enabled, and one without the serial code.
"There have been analogous cases where that kind of remedy was fashioned,"
Catlett said, pointing to telemarketers who have been restrained from
making certain kinds of marketing calls. "It's not a very satisfactory
The FTC "intends to meet with Intel again," Catlett said. "Intel's vision of the future where all PCs are
identified with a number is not the way that we want to go.
"A personal computer should not give out personal information without a
person's consent--people should not be coerced into giving that
information by defaults chosen by a user's browser."