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GUID stand for 'globally unique identifier'. In the world of UNIX it's called a UUID, or 'universally unique identifier'. Whether the GUID or the UUID is applicable outside our solar system is of no consequence. It's a mechanism used on the PC, a mechanism, as so many others, which Wintel 'borrowed' from another world.

A GUID is a 128-bit identifier. The idea is that any 128 bits will if generated randomly be unique no matter what across our globe - or our universe as you would have it. This is highly unlikely, but that's the theory, the working hypothesis at any rate. 128-bit encryption schemes were supposed to be uncrackable, and yet they foundered in a relatively short time; Microsoft keeps a register of official GUIDs used by software vendors (you can contact them and get a sequence of 256 GUIDs for your own use for free), and so forth. Worse still is that the GUID will be based on your so-called MAC number if your computer has a NIC - a network interface card.

NICs are 'branded' with what is supposedly a unique ID each and every one before they leave the factory. If a GUID contains your NIC, and if records exist that correlate each manufactured NIC with a computer it's housed in, and if sales records show who bought what machine - ok, long shot - then a GUID containing a MAC number could be used to fully identify you with no further help from surreptitious online services.

Unnoticed by most of the world at large, Microsoft has been planting GUIDs on machines since at least early 1997 - 'triangulating' as it were your surfing habits when jumping from microsoft.com to msn.com and their news media site msnbc.com.

A while back there was quite a stink about Intel as well. Intel wanted to brand all its new processors, so that each would have a unique identifier as well. This is just too scary for words: the thought that this processor might have a secret agenda and somehow broadcast information back to its mothership would only make one's paranoia more unbearable.

However it's used, and whatever the possibilities for accurately identifying you 'as is', the GUID brings the spectre of tracking up to a new level. Whereas cookies do wear out (expire), GUIDS do not. Whereas anyone might obfuscate tracking data by disconnecting and reconnecting again and getting a new IP, the GUID will see beyond this. If any piece of malicious software is able to hide a GUID on your machine, it can at any time 'phone home' and tell its mothership what you are up to - and uniquely identify you as well.

Next: The Pranksters

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