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Intel, MS, other names face fresh privacy row

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A trade consortium led by Intel, Microsoft, IBM and a bevy of other big PC names is quietly working behind the scenes to produce a "trusted computing platform alliance" which is set to re-ignite civil liberty concerns about computer privacy. The alliance, which includes 70 or so big names in the industry, and which has a Web site here, wants to develop a spec to deliver "enhanced hardware and OS based trusted computing platform that enhances customers' trusted domains". The Trusted Computing Platform Alliance (TCPA) was formed towards the end of last year to virtually no fanfare, and its members have to sign non-disclosure agreements to learn more about the plans. According to sources close to the organisation, the initial specifications are close to release. The organisation says in one of the documents on its site that, as conventional businesses become e-businesses, trustworthiness of PCs "must continue to improve". But that led one observer, who declined to be named, to say: "Doesn't this sound exactly what the music industry, Hollywood and software-licensing monopolists might like? "Furthermore, where does this leave Open Source software, small PC hardware manufacturers and enthusiasts? Modify your PC in the 'wrong' way, and suddenly the Web is closed to you. OK, so Red Hat could get a certificate for their build of a Linux kernel, but suddenly something as common as recompiling the kernel, or using kernel modules is impossible." Intel faced a barrage of complaints from end users and corporations when it released its Pentium III processor, which has a personal serial number (PSN) and which was initially switched on by default. The subsequent protests led it to change its stance, and while the chips still have the PSN, it is now switched off by default. Other members of the trade organisation include Compaq, HP, AMD, 3Com and Baltimore. ®

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