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Lenovo Computers Shipped with Adware Superfish Pre-Installed

posted Sunday Feb 22, 2015 by Nicholas DiMeo

Lenovo Computers Shipped with Adware Superfish Pre-Installed

The price of Windows laptops have come down for many reason. With the recent launch of Windows 8.1 with Bing, manufacturers no longer have to pay a royalty to Microsoft if they meet certain hardware requirements. Combine that with the ever-increasing revenue streams for manufacturers to place a bunch of garbage software and offers on new PCs, and the actual machine becomes inexpensive to users. Well, those exact pieces of software has enraged Lenovo customers and concerned security experts.

Superfish, a piece of software that comes pre-loaded on almost every Lenovo laptop from September 2014 up through January 2015 not including Thinkpads, is essentially adware that displays "relevant shopping advertisements" to consumers, even when they're on secure websites. It basically can be considered a hijacker of sorts, routing traffic through a certificate that allowed Superfish to see your traffic, and then display the ads. On Internet Explorer and Chrome, Superfish would even inject third-party ads into Google search results, without the end-user's permission to do so. As you could imagine, all of this is a potential problem and a huge security risk, especially if a firm leaks a finds and publishes a password that could let you unlock the certificate and bypass any encryption on your computer. And that's exactly what happened on the heels of Lenovo's forums filled with customer complaints. The password, by the way, was contained in the program's active memory and was no challenge to find and retrieve.

Obviously Lenovo was very concerned upon discovery of this news and took immediate action, right? Not exactly. The company first published a statement saying that they thought users would love to have this installed on their machines, and that it was "to help customers potentially discover interesting products while shopping." A noble idea in theory, yet clearly terribly implemented. After the company's initial response, Lenovo then posted a follow-up statement.

Superfish was previously included on some consumer notebook products shipped in a short window between September and December to help customers potentially discover interesting products while shopping. However, user feedback was not positive, and we responded quickly and decisively. Superfish has completely disabled server side interactions (since January) on all Lenovo products so that the product is no longer active. This disables Superfish for all products in market. Lenovo stopped preloading the software in January. We will not preload this software in the future.

Lenovo has also issued a removal tool to fully get rid of the software, as uninstalling won't completely remove it. Those unsure if the removal tool actually works can run a test created by researcher Filippo Valsorda. Lenovo is also working with Microsoft and McAfee, and products by those companies will automatically detect and remove the software in most cases.

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Microsoft to Launch SDK Preview for Xbox One in May

posted Sunday Feb 22, 2015 by Nicholas DiMeo

Microsoft to Launch SDK Preview for Xbox One in May

At Microsoft's Windows 10 event, there was quite a bit of conversation around the Xbox One and its capabilities as it relates to the new operating system. We knew with universal apps, we'd see a lot of interesting ways the Xbox One could be used, but we didn't have much detail on when we'd see the platform open up for this ability. This week, however, that changed as Microsoft announced new plans for an SDK preview for the Xbox One.

While we'll know a lot more in April at Microsoft's Build conference, the company said we will see an SDK preview launching in May. With that also comes the ability for current retail Xbox Ones to be converted into developer kits. Previously, you had to shell out some extra cash and be part of a special program to have access to the Xbox One dev kit. Now, everyone will be able to use their retail Xbox One, once converted, to test and publish apps. Even better, Microsoft also said that we'll finally have the ability to run third-party music apps in the background. This is huge news for any serious gamer, as it was a nuisance to have to snap your favorite music app to play alongside your game.

One question that remains unclear is Kinect usage with Xbox One apps. Not too long ago, Microsoft finally opened up the Kinect to developers to play with, but some devs have said that the entire feature set wasn't there. Others have said they were not impressed with the abilities made available to them. As of right now, we don't know if Microsoft will allow the Kinect to be used with universal apps, but if Cortana being embedded in every piece of Microsoft hardware has any indication of the support for voice controls, I'd imagine we'll see the Kinect be used as much as possible moving forward. I personally can't use the Xbox One without it.

In November, we'll start to see the switch to universal apps on the Xbox One. Developers can then submit apps to the platform using the new SDK from their converted retail units. Along with the November transition, we'll have Windows 10 moving to the Xbox One later on this year, with more information on that probably divulged at Build or E3.

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NBC Joins the Live Stream Broadcast Crew

posted Sunday Feb 22, 2015 by Scott Ertz

NBC Joins the Live Stream Broadcast Crew

The last few months have seen an interesting growth in broadcast companies streaming their live content to customers. ABC offers a service which, as long as you have a cable subscription, allows you to watch their network live on your mobile device. CBS offers a similar service, except you aren't required to have cable, but you are required to pay $6 per month for the ability, cable or not. Even the Best of CES was Sling, a service which gives you an Internet-based cable subscription, complete with networks like Cartoon Network, Disney and even ESPN.

This week, NBC has joined the ranks of CBS and ABC in offering their own mobile streaming service of live content. Like ABC, you will be required to prove your cable subscription, but the service will be provided for free, unlike the CBS service. Unfortunately, not everyone will qualify, however. NBC has to own your local affiliate - it can't be a privately held network. Your cable provider also has to be a participating provider, meaning if you have a smaller cable company, you might still not get access, even if NBC owns your local market.

Luckily, the wholly owned requirement could be fixed in time, as NBC plans to work out agreements with locally owned affiliates. That is good news for me, because our local affiliate, WFLA, is owned by Media General Communications Holdings, meaning the service will not immediately be available in the Tampa Bay area. After that, the network will need to work out a deal with our cable provider, whose agreements with NBC will likely not cover this feature.

For those of you who match all of the requirements, the service is available on the web, and through updates to NBC's Android and iOS apps, which were published this week. You will also still get the ability to stream past episodes of current and older shows, including some early NBC shows like The Incredible Hulk and Knight Rider. Hopefully this feature will also come to Windows Phone, which currently offers CNBC, Syfy, USA and Bravo streaming, but not NBC proper.

With all of these live streaming services coming directly from the networks, it really begins to become clear why they fought Aereo so hard. It is significantly more difficult to promote your own service when someone else is doing it better for the same price. If you do not match all of the requirements for any of these services, just remember that there are options that duplicate the service, similar to setting up your own private Aereo.

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This Week's Legal Ups and Downs for Google

posted Saturday Feb 21, 2015 by Scott Ertz

This Week's Legal Ups and Downs for Google

For the past few years, Google has faced stiff opposition from governments all over the world. They have gotten themselves in trouble with France, the European Union, and most of the world. They even have a number of antitrust suits, particularly in the United States and the EU.

Those troubles got a little worse this week when Russia opened an antitrust investigation into the search company. Prompted by a complaint from Russian search provider Yandex, the investigation will look into whether or not Google overstepped its bounds in including its own services in builds of Android, rather than letting users choose for themselves. While manufacturers are able to make changes to the default content provided on their phones, Google has emphasized their existence with continued rules for usage.

Yandex claims that, by including their own services on Android, Google is hurting competition in the country. In the past year, Yandex has seen their Android search percentage drop from 52 to 44 percent. This case mimics what happened to Microsoft in Europe when Internet Explorer became an integral part of the operating system. Mozilla argued that, by including the browser, it encouraged people to not use other options. After adding in a mandated browser selection in Europe, the usage numbers changed very little, and the mandate has now lapsed without any suggestion of reinstatement.

If the details of this case sound familiar, it's because they are. In fact, the investigation is nearly identical to the US case, in which the Federal Trade Commission investigated Google's promotion of their own products and services over others. The US case is significantly farther along, having already headed to court. The results have gone a different way for the company here, however, as a federal judge tossed the case this week.

The consumers who filed the suit were hoping to turn this case into a class action suit, alleging that by requiring manufacturers to offer Google apps by default in their Android devices have caused prices to be higher due to eliminated competition. For example, we have seen Yahoo purchase the rights to be the default search provider for Firefox. Under the same theory, Yahoo or Microsoft could pay Samsung to offer their services instead of Google's. Included by default could be Bing as search, Outlook as email, even Cortana for voice recognition, for a fee. Those fees could help offset the cost of a new handset, possibly bringing a flagship handset under $199 activated at launch.

The plaintiffs have 3 weeks to amend their complaints, but it is unlikely that they will be able to come up with a complaint that will stick. As it stands, it is likely that the Samsung Galaxy S6 will likely include Microsoft apps, rather than Samsung or Google's own services. Because of this move, proving damages will be difficult for the plaintiffs. It will also mean more competition for Google in their own marketplace, which is something that Android needs for it to evolve.

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Twitch Announces Gaming Convention: TwitchCon

posted Saturday Feb 21, 2015 by Scott Ertz

Twitch Announces Gaming Convention: TwitchCon

Since Amazon purchased Twitch, they have found interesting ways to leverage their popularity. While YouTube is busy driving content creators away, Twitch is working hard to incentivize them to use their platform, and keeping fans engaged with their favorite content creators. It is no surprise, then, that Twitch announced an official convention, concisely named TwitchCon. The event will take place September 25-26, 2015 at Moscone West in San Francisco, a location well-known to the tech world, as the location of both Google I/O and Apple's Worldwide Developer Conference.

According to the company,

A celebration of all things Twitch, TwitchCon will be an interactive convention for broadcasters and viewers alike to meet each other, learn how to take your Twitch game to the next level, and play together.

Just a "Save the Date" for now, we'll have more information about tickets, schedules, where to stay, and all that good stuff in the weeks and months to come.

That sounds like a great extension of the idea of keeping fans and content creators engaged. So, what will the event include? Who knows. It possible that not even the team at Twitch know exactly what the event will be. The website offers email addresses for exhibitor and press contacts, which suggests that they will have some sort of dealer or vendor room and possibly on-site press coverage. The problem is that we have absolutely no idea what might be covered.

The idea, however, is likely to be somewhere in the PAX arena, with a heavier focus on actual gameplay. There are certainly plenty of opportunities to engage the e-sports world; possibly even hold some sort of e-sports tournament. Whatever it is, knowing the team at Twitch, it will be a place you will want to be.

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Sony Makes Its Biggest Move to Regain Profitability

posted Saturday Feb 21, 2015 by Scott Ertz

Sony Makes Its Biggest Move to Regain Profitability

It has been no surprise that Sony has not been profitable for a very long time. With multi-million dollar losses quarter after quarter, CEO Kaz Hirai revealed a turnaround plan he was confident about, which has turned out to not be working as expected. The company has had corporate and divisional layoffs in the tens of thousands, as well as millions cut from divisional budgets. With a $1.1 billion loss, they are even replacing executives.

None of this has seemed to help enough, and more drastic measures have been considered just to keep the lights on. The television division was divided into 3 pieces in an attempt to make it more manageable and, likely, to find and cut the loose thread. Last year, the company's biggest shareholder recommended spinning off the media division entirely, to which Sony replied absolutely not. The idea did seem to spark an idea, however.

Recently, Sony identified Sony Online Entertainment as being outside of the company's core competency and sold it off. That wasn't all, however, because the segment of the company that Hirai has maintained was the most trouble is the consumer electronics division. This means televisions, phones, potentially consumer cameras and home appliances and media devices. As a result, Hirai announced this week that the company plans to move the audio and video businesses into a wholly owned subsidiary: the same strategy they recently took with their television business.

More importantly is a comment made in regards to their mobile business. Last year, the company sold off its Vaio business to focus on mobile, but has yet to find profits in that market. After purchasing Ericsson's share of the Sony Ericsson partnership, the company has not been able to compete in the low-end mobile space with companies like Xiaomi and Huawei, and doesn't have the clout to compete in the high-end space with the likes of Samsung, HTC and LG. Because of this, Hirai says that the company has yet to "rule out considering an exit strategy" with regards to mobile.

These moves will likely end up with the company taking a Polaroid-style licensing approach to their television and phone business. This would entail Sony licensing their name to 3rd parties who would actually design, produce and sell the products under the Sony brand. This is the same move that Sharp made last year in Europe.

On the positive side, Hirai said that Sony will redouble their focus on the PlayStation brand, which is currently their most successful division. Hirai said that, over the next 3 years, he expects that PlayStation, Sony Pictures (whose budget was cut significantly) and music streaming will be the primary profit growth centers for the company. It is not surprising that Hirai would have a loyalty toward the PlayStation brand, as he was promoted into the CEO role from overseeing PlayStation. Also, it has seen almost exclusive top-sales for its PS4 console since launch, only being overshadowed a few times in well over a year.

He is also interested in recurring revenue, like expanding PlayStation Now, which allows you to stream PS3 games on your PS4, a technology based on their Gaikai purchase. That service is currently a Netflix-style $20 for all-you-can-play streaming. They also seem to be considering an actual Netflix competitor, referring to recurring revenue in their Media Networks business.

Will these changes be enough to keep Sony in business, or will they continue to throw good money after bad? It is likely we will know in the coming months, as they determine how to handle mobile and release this quarter's numbers.

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