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TCPA / Palladium

What are TCPA and Palladium?
TCPA stands for the Trusted Computing Platform Alliance, an initiative led by Intel. Their stated goal is `a new computing platform for the next century that will provide for improved trust in the PC platform.' Palladium is software that Microsoft says it plans to incorporate in future versions of Windows; it will build on the TCPA hardware, and will add some extra features.

What does TCPA / Palladium do?
It provides a computing platform on which you can't tamper with the applications, and where these applications can communicate securely with the vendor. The obvious application is digital rights management (DRM): Disney will be able to sell you DVDs that will decrypt and run on a Palladium platform, but which you won't be able to copy. The music industry will be able to sell you music downloads that you won't be able to swap. They will be able to sell you CDs that you'll only be able to play three times, or only on your birthday. All sorts of new marketing possibilities will open up.

TCPA / Palladium will also make it much harder for you to run unlicensed software. Pirate software can be detected and deleted remotely. It will also make it easier for people to rent software rather than buying it; and if you stop paying the rent, then not only does the software stop working but so may the files it created. For years, Bill Gates has dreamed of finding a way to make the Chinese pay for software: Palladium could be the answer to his prayer.
There are many other possibilities.

Governments will be able to arrange things so that all Word documents created on civil servants' PCs are `born classified' and can't be leaked electronically to journalists. Auction sites might insist that you use trusted proxy software for bidding, so that you can't bid tactically at the auction. Cheating at computer games could be made more difficult. There is a downside too.

There will be remote censorship: the mechanisms designed to delete pirated music under remote control may be used to delete documents that a court (or a software company) has decided are offensive - this could be anything from pornography to writings that criticise political leaders. Software companies can also make it harder for you to switch to their competitors' products; for example, Word could encrypt all your documents using keys that only Microsoft products have access to; this would mean that you could only read them using Microsoft products, not with any competing word processor.


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