Geek Stuff

Congress Is Poised to Introduce a Bill to Fast Track TPP so It's Time to Act Now

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The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) talks are stalling while the White House assures its trading partners that this secret trade agreement won't be amended when it comes back to Congress for ratification after the President signs the deal. That's why the Executive is scrambling to get its allies in Congress to pass Fast Track. If they succeed, the U.S. Trade Representative can block remaining opportunities for the examination of the TPP's provisions by lawmakers who could ensure that this secret deal does not contain expansive copyright rules that would lock the U.S. into broken copyright rules that are already in bad need of reform.

The Fast Track bill is likely going to be introduced as early as next week—so it's time to speak out now. Congress needs to hear from their constituents that we expect them to hold the White House accountable for the TPP's restrictive digital policies. Unless this opaque, undemocratic process is fixed, and state officials uphold the interests of users rather than trampling our rights, we have no choice but to fight trade deals like the TPP.

You can get in touch with your elected representatives and call on them to oppose Fast Track trade authority for the TPP and other secretive, anti-user trade deals. We have also created a new tool for Twitter users to ask three key congressional leaders to come out against Fast Track. They are Sen. Ron Wyden, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, and Rep. Steny Hoyer. Here's why we are targeting these three Congress members in particular.

Target #1: Sen. Ron Wyden

Sen. Wyden is one of the leading defenders of users' rights and a staunch fighter for the free and open Internet in Congress. For the past several years, he has been one of the most outspoken lawmakers denouncing the secretive TPP negotiations, and has consistently raised concerns about the agreement's threat to users. As Ranking Member of the Senate Finance Committee, where the Senate bill will be introduced, he has a significant amount of influence over the outcome of Fast Track. We need to call on him to continue to stand with users and fight back against any version of this bill that does not address critical problems in the trade negotiation process.

Target #2: Rep. Nancy Pelosi

House Minority Leader, Nancy Pelosi, has proven to be an outspoken defender of the free and open Internet this year, as she was one of the most vocal proponents to defend net neutrality. However, she has unfortunately been wishy-washy on Fast Track and the TPP. She needs to hear from users that the TPP also puts the Internet at risk from oppressive regulations. If she were to come out against Fast Track, that would be a strong signal for other House Democrats to follow her lead.

Target #3: Rep. Steny Hoyer

His voting record for digital rights has been pretty spotty, and so far Rep. Hoyer has been supportive of Fast Track. But as House Minority Whip, his opposition to Fast Track would also be hugely influential for Democrats in the House to come out against it as well.

Let them know that we're counting on them to defend the Internet from the White House's secret, anti-user deals. Once you're done tweeting at them (which you can of course do more than once!), remember to share these actions through your social networks. We can defeat this massive, anti-user trade deal, but we're going to need all the help we can get.

Related Issues: Fair Use and Intellectual Property: Defending the BalanceInternationalTrade AgreementsTrans-Pacific Partnership Agreement
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Nickeoledon launches Noggin: $6 per month mobile video service

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Children’s TV provider Nickeloedon is launching a new subscription-based streaming video service that will let toddlers (or adults with childish tastes) watch kid’s shows on a smartphone or tablet. Noggin launches March 5th, and subscriptions for the ad-free service run $5.99 per month. At launch Noggin will be iOS-only, which means you’ll need an iPhone, […]

Nickeoledon launches Noggin: $6 per month mobile video service is a post from: Liliputing

3D Printers Making Inroads In Kitchens

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mpicpp sends an article from Fortune about the tiny industry springing up around food-related 3D printing. While such devices are still too expensive and too special-purpose for home kitchens, professionals in restaurants and large cafeterias are figuring out ways they can automate certain time-intensive tasks. For example, pasta: "If the user is making a recipe for ravioli, for instance, the [device] prints the bottom layer of dough, the filling and the top dough layer in subsequent steps. It reduces a lengthy recipe to two minutes construction time and ensures that no one has to clean a countertop caked with leftover dough and flour." The companies developing these 3D printers hope they'll be this generation's version of the microwave, gradually finding a use in almost every kitchen.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Microsoft's Goals For Their New Web Rendering Engine

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An anonymous reader writes: Microsoft has put up a post about explaining what they wanted to accomplish when they started working on Project Spartan, the new web browser that will ship with Windows 10. They say some things you wouldn't expect to hear from Microsoft: "We needed a plan to make it easy for Web developers to build compatible sites regardless of which browser they develop first for. We needed a plan which ensured that our customers have a good experience regardless of whether they browse the head or tail of the Web. We needed a plan which gave enterprise customers a highly backward compatible browser regardless of how quickly we pushed forward with modern HTML5 features." They also explain how they decided against using WebKit so they wouldn't contribute to "a monoculture on the Web."

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

The Programmers Who Want To Get Rid of Software Estimates

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An anonymous reader writes: This article has a look inside the #NoEstimates movement, which wants to rid the software world of time estimates for projects. Programmers argue that estimates are wrong too often and a waste of time. Other stakeholders believe they need those estimates to plan and to keep programmers accountable. Is there a middle ground? Quoting: "Software project estimates are too often wrong, and the more time we throw at making them, the more we steal from the real work of building software. Also: Managers have a habit of treating developers' back-of-the-envelope estimates as contractual deadlines, then freaking out when they're missed. And wait, there's more: Developers, terrified by that prospect, put more and more energy into obsessive trips down estimation rabbit-holes. Estimation becomes a form of "yak-shaving" — a ritual enacted to put off actual work."

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Imagination unveils PowerVR GT7900 graphics for low-cost game consoles

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Imagination Technologies is launching its most powerful graphics processor yet. The PowerVR GT7900 GPU features 512 ALU cores, 16 shader clusters, and when clocked at 800 MHz, the GT7900 run at speeds of up to 800 gigaflops in floating point 32 mode, or 1.6 teraflops in the low-power FP16 mode. Don’t expect to find this chip in […]

Imagination unveils PowerVR GT7900 graphics for low-cost game consoles is a post from: Liliputing

Facebook's Colonies

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sarahnaomi writes: Facebook this week released a major report on global internet access, as part of the company's campaign, which aims to bring cheap internet to new markets in partnership with seven mobile companies. Facebook says 1.39 billion people used its product in December 2014, and it's natural for the company to try to corral the other four-fifths of the planet. But aside from ideals and growth markets, the report highlights a tension inherent to the question of access: When Facebook sets sail to disconnected markets, what version of the internet will it bring? In its report, Facebook advocates for closing the digital divide as quickly as we can, which is a good thing. But when Facebook argues that, "as use of the internet continues to expand, it will exert a powerful effect on the global economy, particularly in the developing world," it's arguing that any increase in access is inherently good, which isn't necessarily the case.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

EFF to Congress: Curb Patent Demand Letter Abuse

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At a congressional hearing today, EFF Staff Attorney Vera Ranieri gave formal testimony about patent demand letters and the harm these letters cause to legitimate businesses. Ranieri outlined the discouraging process that allows demand letters to thrive: the Patent Office issues vague and overbroad patents; patent trolls acquire these bad patents and send unfair and deceptive demand letters; and legitimate businesses, without the resources to fight back, end up paying unjustifiable licensing fees. It’s long past time to reform this severely broken system, and we’re pleased that lawmakers seemed ready to tackle this complex problem.

EFF has been fighting abuse of the patent system for years—doing everything from getting bad patents invalidated, to working to stop bad patents from issuing in the first place, to trying to fix imbalances in the law. In just the last few weeks, EFF announced that it’s representing a photo hobbyist attacked by a patent bully that wanted a license fee for running an online “vote-for-your-favorite-picture” poll and released its “Defend Innovation” whitepaper—two-and-a-half years' worth of research on the challenges facing innovators under the current patent regime, along with concrete suggestions of measures policymakers should take in the coming year.

It seems that conventional wisdom is finally catching up to something that innovators have known for a long time: our patent system isn’t serving creators, it’s hurting them. Join and tell Congress to take action and pass desperately needed reforms today.

Related Issues: PatentsLegislative Solutions for Patent ReformPatent TrollsInnovation
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Dear FCC: Thanks for Listening to Team Internet!

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Today the FCC voted three to two to reclassify broadband Internet access as a common carrier service under Title II of the Communications Act, and forbear from the parts of the Act that aren’t necessary for net neutrality rules. This reclassification gives the FCC the authority to enact (and enforce) narrow, clear rules which will help keep the Internet the open platform it is today.

As expected, the FCC’s new rules forbid ISPs from charging Internet users for special treatment on their networks. It will also reach interconnection between ISPs and transit providers or edge services, allowing the FCC to ensure that ISPs don’t abuse their gatekeeper authority to favor some services over others.

That’s great for making sure websites and services can reach ISP customers, but what about making sure customers can choose for themselves how to use their Internet connections without interference from their ISPs? To accomplish this, the FCC has banned ISPs from blocking or throttling their customers’ traffic based on content, applications or services—which means users, hackers, tinkerers, artists, and knowledge seekers can continue to innovate and experiment on the Internet, using any app or service they please, without having to get their ISP’s permission first.

Even better, the rules will apply to wireless and wired broadband in the same way, so you don’t have to worry that your phone switching from Wi-Fi to a 4G network will suddenly cause apps not to work or websites to become inaccessible. Lots of people use mobile devices as their primary way of accessing the Internet, so applying net neutrality rules to both equally will help make sure there is “one Internet” for all.

So congratulations, Team Internet. We put the FCC on the right path at last. Reclassification under Title II was a necessary step in order to give the FCC the authority it needed to enact net neutrality rules. But now we face the really hard part: making sure the FCC doesn’t abuse its authority.

For example, the new rules include a “general conduct rule” that will let the FCC take action against ISP practices that don’t count as blocking, throttling, or paid prioritization. As we said last week and last year, vague rules are a problem. The FCC wants to be, in Chairman Wheeler’s words, “a referee on the field” who can stop any ISP action that it thinks “hurts consumers, competition, or innovation.” The problem with a rule this vague is that neither ISPs nor Internet users can know in advance what kinds of practices will run afoul of the rule. Only companies with significant legal staff and expertise may be able to use the rule effectively. And a vague rule gives the FCC an awful lot of discretion, potentially giving an unfair advantage to parties with insider influence. That means our work is not yet done.  We must stay vigilant, and call out FCC overreach.

The actual order is over 300 pages long, and it’s not widely available yet. Details matter.  Watch this space for further analysis when the FCC releases the final order.

Related Issues: Net NeutralityTransparencyRelated Cases: Net Neutrality Lobbying
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Who's Afraid of Android Fragmentation?

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Nerval's Lobster writes: The dreaded term "fragmentation" has been applied to Android more times than anyone can count over the past half-decade. That's part of the reason why game developers often build for iOS before Android, even though Android offers a bigger potential customer base worldwide, and more types of gaming experiences. Fortunately, new sets of tools allow game developers to build for one platform and port their work (fairly) easily to another. "We've done simultaneously because it is such a simple case of swapping out the textures and also hooking up different APIs for scores and achievements," London-based indie developer Tom Vian told Dice. "I've heard that iOS is a better platform to launch on first, but there's no sense for us in waiting when we can spend half a day and get it up and running." So is fragmentation an overhyped roadblock, or is it a genuine problem for developers who work in mobile?

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Archos to launch budget smartphones, phablets at MWC 2015

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French electronics company Archos has unveiled 4 new low-cost smartphones the company will launch at Mobile World Congress next week. The new phones are all powered by MediaTek processors, feature screen sizes ranging from 5 inches to 6.3 inches, and they’re all priced under $200. The top-of-the-line model is a 5 inch phone called the […]

Archos to launch budget smartphones, phablets at MWC 2015 is a post from: Liliputing

FCC Approves Net Neutrality Rules

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muggs sends word that the U.S. Federal Communications Commission has voted 3-2 to approve an expansion of their ability to regulate ISPs by treating them as a public utility. Under the rules, it will be illegal for companies such as Verizon or Cox Communications to slow down streaming videos, games and other online content traveling over their networks. They also will be prohibited from establishing "fast lanes" that speed up access to Web sites that pay an extra fee. And in an unprecedented move, the FCC could apply the rules to wireless carriers such as T-Mobile and Sprint -- a nod to the rapid rise of smartphones and the mobile Internet. ... The FCC opted to regulate the industry with the most aggressive rules possible: Title II of the Communications Act, which was written to regulate phone companies. The rules waive a number of provisions in the act, including parts of the law that empower the FCC to set retail prices — something Internet providers feared above all. However, the rules gives the FCC a variety of new powers, including the ability to: enforce consumer privacy rules; extract money from Internet providers to help subsidize services for rural Americans, educators and the poor; and make sure services such as Google Fiber can build new broadband pipes more easily.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Schneier: Everyone Wants You To Have Security, But Not From Them

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An anonymous reader writes: Bruce Schneier has written another insightful piece about the how modern tech companies treat security. He points out that most organizations will tell you to secure your data while at the same time asking to be exempt from that security. Google and Facebook want your data to be safe — on their servers so they can analyze it. The government wants you to encrypt your communications — as long as they have the keys. Schneier says, "... we give lots of companies access to our data because it makes our lives easier. ... The reason the Internet is a worldwide mass-market phenomenon is that all the technological details are hidden from view. Someone else is taking care of it. We want strong security, but we also want companies to have access to our computers, smart devices, and data. We want someone else to manage our computers and smart phones, organize our e-mail and photos, and help us move data between our various devices. ... We want our data to be secure, but we want someone to be able to recover it all when we forget our password. We'll never solve these security problems as long as we're our own worst enemy.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Deals of the Day (2-26-2015)

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An Apple iPad Air 2 with 16GB of storage normally sells for $499. But there are a few ways to save money on Apple’s latest 9.7 inch tablet: you can pick up a 64GB model for $499 (which is $100 off the normal price), or save $80 on any model if you order from Best Buy before […]

Deals of the Day (2-26-2015) is a post from: Liliputing

Machine Intelligence and Religion

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itwbennett writes: Earlier this month Reverend Dr. Christopher J. Benek raised eyebrows on the Internet by stating his belief that Christians should seek to convert Artificial Intelligences to Christianity if and when they become autonomous. Of course that's assuming that robots are born atheists, not to mention that there's still a vast difference between what it means to be autonomous and what it means to be human. On the other hand, suppose someone did endow a strong AI with emotion – encoded, say, as a strong preference for one type of experience over another, coupled with the option to subordinate reasoning to that preference upon occasion or according to pattern. what ramifications could that have for algorithmic decision making?

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

The State of Linux Gaming In the SteamOS Era

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An anonymous reader writes: It's been over a year since Valve announced its Linux-based SteamOS, the biggest push yet from a huge company to bring mainstream gaming to Linux. In this article, Ars Technica takes a look at how their efforts are panning out. Game developers say making Linux ports has gotten dramatically easier: "There are great games shipping for Linux from development teams with no Linux expertise. They hit the 'export to Linux' button in the Unity editor and shipped it and it worked out alright. We didn't get flying cars, but the future is turning out OK so far." Hardware drivers are still a problem, getting in the way of potential performance gains due to Linux's overall smaller resource footprint than Windows. And while the platform is growing, it's doing so slowly. Major publishers are still hesitant to devote time to Linux, and Valve is taking their time building for it. Their Steam Machine hardware is still in development, and some of their key features are being adopted by other gaming giants, like Microsoft. Still, Valve is sticking with it, and that's huge. It gives developers faith that they can work on supporting Linux without fear that the industry will re-fragment before their game is done.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

New Report Shows European Data Protection Authorities are Taking Facebook’s Questionable Terms of Service Seriously

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Grumblings about changes in Facebook’s layout and policies are standard practice for everyone familiar with the social media giant. But some European governments are taking Facebook’s practices more seriously. This week, interdisciplinary scholars and researchers in Belgium issued a draft report entitled “From social media service to advertising network: A critical analysis of Facebook’s Revised Policies and Terms.” The report is provisional, and “will be updated after further research, deliberation and commentary.”

The report was based on an “extensive analysis of Facebook’s revised policies and terms,” conducted “at the request of the Belgian Privacy Commission.” The Commission is part of a task force of European Union (EU) data protection authorities created specifically to address Facebook’s shifting policies, which also includes Germany and the Netherlands.

This thorough analysis is useful both because it provides an in-depth explanation of items of note in the newly revised 2015 terms and because it explains how the terms fit in with European law. To be fair, it’s not all bad, and the report reiterates some long-standing concerns, that have not been affected by recent changes. The report also notes that Facebook has improved the degree of clarity around how it uses data, though rather large holes remain.  

Overall, the report found that many of Facebook’s policies and practices with regards to data are of questionable legality under European Union law.1 This is of increasing concern because:

Facebook’s data processing capabilities have increased both horizontally and vertically. By horizontal we refer to the increase of data gathered from different sources. Vertical refers to the deeper and more detailed view Facebook has on its users.

In particular, this expansion has happened because Facebook has acquired new companies like Instagram and Whatsapp, and because more and more websites use Facebook plug-ins and other services. The report also noted that much of how Facebook uses data is simply opaque.

Privacy Settings

Although Facebook’s privacy settings haven’t changed, the report notes that:

users are able to choose from several granular settings which regulate access by other individuals, but cannot exercise meaningful control over the use of their personal information by Facebook or third parties. This gives users a false sense of control.

That false sense of control is key, since the report emphasizes the many ways in which users cannot actually limit use of their data. What’s more, Facebook’s default settings for “behavioural profiling and advertising” do not constitute legally valid consent because “consent cannot be inferred from the data subject’s inaction,” and this concept of explicit consent, taken from applicable EU law, recurs throughout the report.

Data use

To be legally valid under European Union law, consent to processing and use of user generated data must be “freely given”, “specific”, “informed” and “unambiguous.” The report stresses, “it is highly questionable whether Facebook’s current approach satisfies these requirements.”

Facebook’s practices with regards to how it combines data from a variety of sources, and shares data with other parties are also of questionable legality, according to the report. For example, the report describes a use case in which Facebook combines its own data with data from third-party data brokers. The report notes “Facebook only offers an opt-out system for its users in relation to profiling for third-party advertising purposes,” which in the authors’ view, is insufficient to meet legal requirements.

Facebook’s use of user-generated content, such as photos, is also problematic.  Facebook’s terms grant “a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty- free, worldwide license” to Facebook to use such content. The report notes that this may contradict EU and Belgian law, and has been held “invalid and therefore not enforceable under German Law.” Similarly, “[i]ndividuals have the right control use of their image,” but the lack of clarity in Facebook’s terms and settings makes this hard to do. That’s why the report recommends that users should be specifically required to opt-in to using their images for ads.

Unfair Contract Terms

In addition to the concerns noted above with how Facebook utilizes user data, the report indicates that some portions of Facebook’s terms may violate European consumer protection law, in particular the Unfair Contract Terms Directive (UCTD).

One stands out: Facebook’s right to stop providing access to Facebook without warning. Although the terms indicate that Facebook will notify users by email or the next time a user tries to log in, under the UCTD, “terms that enable ‘the seller or supplier to terminate a contract of indeterminate duration without reasonable notice except where there are serious grounds for doing so’ may be unfair.

As we’ve noted before, Facebook has terminated or suspended many accounts under its names policy. One of the things that users find especially frustrating is the experience of attempting to log in and not being able to access content they may have spent years amassing—all because they weren’t given a warning. Under European law, Facebook’s method of dealing with name violations may not be simply unfair. It may actually be illegal.

In addition to concerns about termination, the report several other problematic terms. It points out that Facebook's terms require disputes to be settled in California, under California law, even though the company has offices in three EU member states.This is likely unlawful under European Parliament regulations. Also, under the UCTD, the terms that limit Facebook's liability to $100, disclaim any warranty for content and software, and reserve the right to unilaterally change the terms themselves, are all likely unlawful. Lastly, the clause that "obliges users to indemnify Facebook for any expenses incurred, including legal fees, as a result of a violation of the terms of service" is unlawful in some EU countries.

Tracking and location data

Finally, the report notes that Facebook has increased the ways in which it collects data from users beyond cookies, and collects locational data from a wide variety of sources.

Although Facebook is more explicit in the 2015 terms about gathering locational data, it remains “vague and broad” in its description of what it will do with that data. And that’s a big gap. Users have only the choice to turn access to location data like GPS and WiFi off or on once in the mobile app; they can’t share location data for some purposes but not others. What’s more, Facebook may collect location data not only through explicit means like GPS, but also through other means like the location data in a photograph—and there are no settings that address this. The report recommends offering “granular in-app settings for sharing of location data, with all parameters turned off by default,” and minimizing collection of location data in the first place.

When it comes to tracking, Facebook tracks users through several means, including social plug-ins, fingerprinting, and mobile apps. Social plug-ins are things like Facebook’s “like” button on a news organization’s page. While outside websites can limit the degree of tracking done by plug-ins, the report concludes that Facebook’s current scheme doesn’t provide for legal consent, and that “Facebook should design its social plug-ins in way which are privacy-friendly by default.”

Other forms of tracking are also of questionable legality. Facebook’s practice of fingerprinting (using a different information like operating system and browser settings to create a “fingerprint” of a device) requires collection and use of device information that is likely not legal under article 5(3) of the e-Privacy Directive.  And because tracking through apps can only be controlled by opting-out, like other areas where this is the only option, the report concludes that Facebook’s terms don’t “provide for legally valid consent” in this area, either.

Facebook isn’t going away anytime soon, but users should be clear on how the social media giant really operates. You can read the entire report here [PDF]. Hopefully Facebook is reading it too, and plans to address the serious issues raised. We've already given them a few suggestions on how to do so.


  • 1. Specifically, the report noted the Unfair Contract Terms Directive, the work of the Article 29 Working Party, and the e-Privacy Directive.
Related Issues: InternationalInternational Privacy StandardsPrivacy
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Design your own Moto 360 smartwatch with Moto Maker (in March)

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Motorola’s Moto Maker tool lets smartphone shoppers customize the design of smartphones like the Moto X before placing an order. Soon you’ll be able to customize Motorola smartwatches the same way. Wired reports Motorola will launch a new version of Moto Maker in March, and this time it will have an option that lets you create a […]

Design your own Moto 360 smartwatch with Moto Maker (in March) is a post from: Liliputing

Lizard Squad Claims Attack On Lenovo Days After Superfish

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Amanda Parker writes with news that hacker group Lizard Squad has claimed responsibility for a defacement of Lenovo's website. This follows last week's revelations that Lenovo installed Superfish adware on consumer laptops, which included a self-signed certificate authority that could have allowed man-in-the-middle attacks. The hackers seemingly replaced the manufacturer's website with images of an unidentified youth, displayed with a song from the Disney film High School Musical playing in the background. Taking to a new Twitter account that has only been active a matter of days, the Lizards also posted emails alleged to be from Lenovo, leading some to speculate that the mail system had been compromised. While some have seen the attack as retaliation for the Superfish bug, it is also possible that Lizard Squad are jumping on the event merely to promote their own hacking services.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.


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