Computer Makers Ship Computers With Pentium ID Switched Off

Computer makers on Friday unveiled new machines that incorporate Intel’s controversial Pentium III chips, despite last-minute protests from a privacy advocacy group that is petitioning the Federal Trade Commission to halt distribution of the technology.(See Article, “Consumer Groups Demand FTC Halt Distribution of Pentium Chip.”)

Compaq Computer Corp., Houston, the largest maker of personal computers, said it shipped its first home computers with a software switch that users can click on to activate an identification feature, called a processor serial number, or PSN, housed on the chip that can be used to identify the user through the Internet or within a network.

“It’s going to be real obvious to the consumer whether or not the feature is activated,” said Alan Hodel, a Compaq spokesman.

Compaq’s business computers will have the feature turned off in their basic input/output systems, or BIOS. The technology to turn the switch off in the BIOS was not available when Compaq’s first computers using the Pentium III were built several weeks ago, Hodel said.

A spokesman for Dell, the world’s largest direct marketer of personal computers, said that company would ship all of its computers with the feature turned off in the BIOS, unless requested not to do so by the customer. In the future, the company said, it would also incorporate another software switch that will be easier for the user to activate or deactivate.

The Center for Democracy and Technology said it would ask the FTC to halt shipment of the chips and of computers that are distributed with the PSN turned on, saying that the use of the feature constitutes a deceptive trade practice. The group said the PSN could be used by marketers to track the activity of computer users on the Internet.

Hodel, however, said there were several applications for the PSN feature that users might seek to take advantage of. In large corporations, for example, the PSNs would enable system administrators to identify each of the PCs on their networks for various reasons, such as determination what software applications were being used.

“In a commercial environment, the ability to manage your assets more effectively can lower the cost of ownership,” he said.

It also could be used as an extra layer of security during e-commerce transactions, advocates said.

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