The Pentium III's serial number puts a paranoid chip on Rat's shoulder

The cyberrodent has been puzzled for some time by Intel Corp.’s bizarre
advertisements. First, they upgraded Homer Simpson’s brain with a Pentium II
processor. The tinkly Intel Inside sound bite followed by Simpson’s “Doh!”
conveyed a different message from the one intended by the Oregon illuminati.


Now Intel is bombarding the world with dadaist ads for its Pentium III chip and trying
to raise consumer awareness by provoking a boycott by cyberprivacy advocates. “It
must be all that rain on the coast,” mused the Rat. “It fogs up their
brains.”


Readers who have been busy recently stocking their year 2000 shelters might not have
heard about the serial number embedded in the new Pentium III chip, intended to identify
it to Internet applications. A resident application on the computer would report the
chip’s number to any Web sites visited. Voila, the ultimate cookie.


The serial number would make it easier, at least in theory, to track a particular
system across multiple sites, record browsing choices and possibly cross-index any
personal data collected.


The Rat’s paranoid little brain shrinks in horror. First, the Secret Service funds
a driver’s license photo database, and now this. How is a rodent supposed to maintain
a secret identity anymore?


There’s been so much uproar over the potential for privacy infringement that Intel
says it will provide software for users to turn off the serial number. The disabling
software naturally will be a Microsoft Windows application. “The ultimate in
security,” sneers the Rat.


So what’s to keep another application, Microsoft Registry Wizard, for example,
from turning the serial number back on?


Why else would IBM Corp.—perhaps the most unlikely privacy
guardian ever—announce that it will build serial number blocking capability into its
Pentium III hardware?


The cyberrodent has come up with a few escape hatches of his own: Buy another
company’s processors, or write software that randomly generates a different serial
number for each incoming request, or try both of the above.


He has also dispatched several of his allegedly intelligent agents to fetch the serial
number from Intel chairman Andy Grove’s Pentium III machine. The wired one plans to
program it into all his systems.


Ironically, the music in the new Pentium III ad is a Dixie jazz tune called “Put a
Lid on It” by a band called the Squirrel Nut Zippers. One more conflicting message
there. It’s as if there’s a secret resistance cell operating inside Intel’s
ad agency.


But the whiskered one suspects there’s more to this than meets the eye. Could it
all be part of a Wintel conspiracy to unleash the number of the beast on unsuspecting
users? “Just watch,” mutters the Rat. “I bet the Pentium III will come in a
666-MHz version.”


Or perhaps the Homer Simpson ad foreshadows a plan to implant the Pentium III CPU in
the brain of every living creature—even rodents—and to claim their thoughts as
intellectual property.


Maybe, just maybe, the plan has already gone into operation.


How can you tell if your co-workers have been implanted? The Rat urges you to look for
these three warning signs: hot operating temperature, trouble adding up figures accurately
to five decimal places and an inexplicable affinity for the Portland Trailblazers. 


The Packet Rat once managed networks but now spends his time ferreting out bad
packets in cyberspace. E-mail him at rat@gcn.com.

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