WASHINGTON -- Days before the debut of the fastest ever computer processor from Intel Corp., the chip's critics sought Monday to widen their boycott and enlist the government in opposing the new technology, which they say will allow easy tracing of Internet users.
The organizers of the boycott, Junkbusters Corp. of Green Brook, N.J., and the Washington-based Electronic Privacy Information Center, sent letters to privacy and consumer groups, encouraging them to get the Federal Trade Commission involved.
Intel, the world's largest computer chip-maker, announced last month that its upcoming Pentium III chip will be able to transmit a unique serial number internally and to Web sites that request it. This could be used to verify the identity of Web site users.
The company said the technology will help online merchants eliminate fraud, but some privacy groups contend it gives companies unprecedented ability to trace a consumer's digital footprints as they wander the Web.
The Pentium III will be launched officially Feb. 26, but the company has invited reporters and industry analysts to talk with executives about the technology Wednesday at a preview conference in San Jose, Calif.
On Monday, the protest groups sent letters seeking support from the American Civil Liberties Union, Center for Democracy and Technology, Center for Media Education, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Consumer Project on Technology and others active in the industry.
The letters asked these groups to urge the FTC to consider stopping Intel from distributing its new technology and to warn the industry's largest computer makers expected to sell machines using the new chip.
FTC Chairman Robert Pitofsky has already indicated he doesn't believe that his agency, which normally fights consumer fraud and deceptive trade practices, can require Intel to stop selling its Pentium III chips.
"As things stand, I don't think we have the authority to do that," Pitofsky told The Associated Press.
In a separate letter to Pitofsky, the groups warned that consumers will not participate in commerce over the Internet because they fear their privacy could be compromised. The Pentium III technology "will move reality much closer to these consumers' worst fears," the groups wrote the FTC.
An Intel spokesman, Chuck Mulloy, said, "They certainly have the right to write letters to anyone they want. We think we've given consumers enough choice -- consumers choice and choice for the (computer makers)."
After the planned boycott was announced last month, Intel officials said they will include software that allows consumers to turn off the new technology and that the company will encourage computer makers to turn it off by default in machines they sell.
The privacy groups argued that some Web sites will require the technology be turned on and that some companies will mandate its use to prevent software piracy. "Experience shows that consumers will be coerced into submitting to the tracking mechanism," they wrote to the FTC.
Intel has said it expects to spend $300 million worldwide promoting its new processor, which will feature 70 new built-in instructions that will boost the performance of graphics, multimedia and voice-recognition software.
The company supplies roughly 85 percent of the world's computer processors and had $26.2 billion in sales last year.
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