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Lenovo COO: We Made 'Huge Mistake' with Superfish

BEIJING — Lenovo "made a huge mistake" with Superfish, admitted Gerry Smith, the company's chief operating officer for consumer and enterprise computers. Speaking at the Chinese computer maker's first Tech World conference here today (May 28), Smith said the pre-installation of such hidden adware, which could have been used to steal personal information from computer users, would never happen again.

"We clearly made a mistake, and we're not going to make it again," Smith, the top American executive in the Chinese firm, said. "We're going to be extremely transparent on what the usage model is, and hyper-sensitive that data is secure and not misappropriated."

The Superfish software, a legal, commercial product, analyzed images of retail products displayed on a Web page, then added advertisements showing similar or identical products for sale at other locations online. However, Superfish functioned not only on regular websites, but also on secure HTTPS websites, such as those used by banks and some retailers.

It did so by fundamentally breaking the encryption process that guaranteed the safety of users' credit-card numbers and other sensitive data, and handling that process in such a way that anyone on the same user network — such as a Wi-Fi hotspot — could read that data. It was through this so-called "backdoor" that a user's security could be compromised.

In February, security bloggers posted detailed instructions on how the Superfish adware, which was preloaded onto Lenovo laptops, could be manipulated so that a user could unwittingly give up his or her personal information, including bank-account data. After initially denying there was a problem, Lenovo released a removal tool a day later.

MORE: Lenovo Releases Superfish Removal Tool

When it comes to adding apps and utilities on PCs, "I'm erring on the side of being conservative," Smith added, saying that monetization isn't as important as making sure consumers get a clean PC image. "Nothing's more important than our reputation and our customer's opinion of us."

At Tech World, Smith also hinted at future products.

"At CES next year, there's going to be some new ThinkPads, and some new form factor type of devices," he said.

Smith also said that, to maintain its market share, Lenovo has to remain platform-agnostic.

"We have a goal of a 30 percent market share, and to get there, we have to play in every space," he said. "We're excited for Windows 10, but we're also working with Google and other operating systems as well."

With that in mind, Smith also talked of the importance of being able to seamlessly access content across a variety of devices, regardless of operating system.

"REACHit and SHAREit [two of Lenovo's file-sharing utilities] are the first efforts, but we need to go further than that," Smith said. "You need to get your data on any device. That's what keeps the PC alive."

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