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Former Apple engineer describes 'secret war' with opponents of copy protection

A former Apple engineer on Friday told a federal jury that he worked on a project meant to deny rivals access to the lucrative iTunes digital music and iPod device markets, according to the Wall Street Journal.


Previously, the engineer, Rod Schultz, had characterized Apple's frequent updates of iTunes as a 'secret war' between the company and those who sought to break copy protection of music and movies.


At an Oakland, Calif. trial where Apple faces antitrust accusations, Schultz told the jury that his work was 'intended to block 100% of non-iTunes clients' and 'keep out third-party players,' the newspaper reported ( subscription required).


Schultz, who worked for Apple from January 2006 until March 2008, was a senior software engineer on the team responsible for FairPlay, the company's digital rights management (DRM) technology designed to prevent illegal copying and sharing of content. Currently, Schultz is vice president of product at Krimmeni Technologies, a privately-held cloud security company based in San Francisco.


The federal jury has been hearing testimony for two weeks, and will weigh allegations that Apple's practices resulted in higher iPod prices.


Schultz came to the attention of the plaintiffs' lawyers in large part because of a 2012 article he wrote for a French computer security and cryptography publication. While the plaintiffs were unable to convince U.S. District Court Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers to admit the article as evidence, they did subpoena Schultz, who testified reluctantly.


In that article, written years after his stint at Apple and while he was working at Adobe, also on DRM, Schultz described the cat-and-mouse game between Apple and outside researchers who quickly came up with ways to sidestep FairPlay each time Apple updated the technology.


'This was the beginning of a secret war between the FairPlay team and Brahms, costing millions of dollars,' Schultz wrote, referring to the moniker of the individual or team that in early 2008 reverse-engineered the latest FairPlay copy protection.


Schultz also described the reverse engineering work -- which resulted in a software program dubbed Requiem -- as 'an extremely sophisticated attack of Apple's FairPlay.'


Apple has not denied that it regularly updated iTunes and the iPod firmware to meet contractual obligations with content providers, but it has rejected claims that it did so to lock out rivals' devices from the iTunes marketplace or alternate music stores' wares from playing on its own iPods.


More interesting outside the narrow confines of the lawsuit, in the 2012 article Schultz offered an alternate explanation for Apple's argument five years earlier that it would be best to drop copy protection on the music it sold. That decision was initiated by then-CEO Steve Jobs, who issued an open letter in February 2007 in which he acknowledged the difficulty of staying ahead of those trying to break DRM.


'The problem, of course, is that there are many smart people in the world, some with a lot of time on their hands, who love to discover such secrets and publish a way for everyone to get free (and stolen) music,' Jobs wrote in the missive.


Two months later, EMI, one of the four major music labels, struck a deal with Apple to sell DRM-free tracks on iTunes; by January 2009, iTunes was selling unprotected tunes from all four labels, as well as thousands of independents.


Schultz speculated that the move was less Apple largess and more one forced on the Cupertino, Calif. company.


'Jobs was astute enough to realize the negative reaction the public had to DRM, and he successfully painted the picture that Apple hated DRM, and that Apple wanted music to be freely shared,' Schultz wrote in the 2012 piece. 'The music industry finally gave in to Steve Jobs, giving him -- and the consumer -- a victory in the music war on DRM.'


But perhaps there was another reason for Apple's reversal.


'Maybe Steve Jobs was really trying to spin a pending decision by the music industry into a public perception victory for Apple,' Schultz argued. 'The truth was that with the power of its DRM, Apple was locking the majority of music downloads to its devices. The music industry didn't go DRM-free because they hated DRM; they went DRM free because they were fearful of the leverage Apple was gaining with their iTunes + FairPlay + iPod combination.'


Under Schultz's scenario, the music industry, between the rock of piracy and the hard place of Apple's dominance, chose what it thought was the 'lesser of two evils' to break Apple's monopoly on the digital music business.


Schultz's article can be found on the Whiteboxcrypto.com website ( download PDF).



Valve Removes Controversial Massacre Sim From Greenlight

Hatred, the ultraviolent massacre sim that gained notoriety due to its controversial content, has been removed from Stream's Greenlight program.


Steam custodian Valve confirmed it had deleted the listing, after it had rapidly accrued thousands of votes, suggesting that the game's brutal content had spurred its decision.


'Based on what we've seen on Greenlight we would not publish Hatred on Steam,' Valve spokesperson Doug Lombardi told Eurogamer. 'As such we'll be taking it down.'


Hatred was revealed to the public in October with a trailer that immediately drew controversy. The video, above, features a lone gunman preparing for a massacre in his home, before setting himself upon the surrounding neighbourhood.


Later, the video depicts stabbings, mall massacres, and shotgun executions. The nameless character, dressed in a leather trench coat, is at one point seen jamming a pistol into a fallen woman's mouth, before pulling the trigger.


Valve's decision to not support the game follows a similar distancing from the game's engine creator, Epic Games. The company has previously said: 'Epic Games isn't involved in this project. Unreal Engine 4 is available to the general public for use 'for any lawful purpose,' and we explicitly don't exert any sort of creative control or censorship over projects. However, the video is using the trademarked Unreal Engine 4 logo without permission from Epic, and we've asked for the removal of our logo from all marketing associated with this product.'


Creative Destruction, the game's Poland based developer, has responded to Valve's removal of the game by saying it respects the corporation's decision, adding that it was overjoyed with the response from supporters of the project.


In a message to fans, the company wrote: 'Even though games like Manhunt or Postal are still available on Steam we of course fully respect Valve's decision, as they have right to do so. In the same time we want to assure you that this won't in any way impact the game development, game's vision or gameplay features we're aiming for. The game is still to be released in Q2 2015 as planned.


'Moreover we don't treat this as a failure because yet again this showed us a huge community support we're totally overwhelmed with. After only a couple of hours Greenlight campaign being live, Hatred gathered 13,148 up votes and ended up on a #7 on top 100 list.


'This is the best proof for us that there are diehard Hatred fans out there waiting for this game to be released. And that we need to keep going to deliver them a game that offers exciting and challenging gameplay. The whole situation only pushes us forward to go against any adversity and not to give up. It also makes us want to provide our fans Hatred pre-orders sooner, as many of you have asked for them.'



Case over Apple's digital music dominance heads to jury

Posted: 12/15/2014 03:24:57 PM PST


OAKLAND -- iTunes 7.0: A landmark improvement to Apple's software for the iPod or an empty update meant to drive out competitors and hike prices for consumers?


That will be the $1 billion question for a federal jury in Oakland as they deliberate over whether Apple's dominance of digital music during the iPod's heyday amounted to an illegal monopoly. After a two-week trial with a few speed bumps, lawyers for Apple and the plaintiffs made their final pitches to jurors Monday, offering up divergent portraits of the Cupertino-based tech giant.


Plaintiffs argue that Apple's practice of restricting music downloads on the iPod to the iTunes store stamped out competition from other firms. During his closing argument, plaintiffs lawyer Patrick Coughlin said Apple's software updates, which drove out a rival program from RealNetworks, were a 'one-two punch' in the market.



'Apple didn't want to leave you with that choice,' plaintiffs lawyer Patrick Coughlin said during his closing argument.


But when it was his turn to address the jury, Apple lawyer William Isaacson framed iTunes 7.0 not as a death knell for competition but a boon for consumers. He noted the update delivered enhanced security, games and a host of movies, among other features.


'The overwhelming evidence here is of genuine product improvement,' he said.


Kicking off deliberations Monday afternoon, jurors will consider first whether iTunes 7.0 was indeed an improvement, as antitrust laws hold that companies cannot be punished for enhancing their products, regardless of the ramifications for competitors. If jurors side with Apple on that question, the company will win; if not, the group will move on to other issues, such as damages. To compensate consumers for inflated prices, plaintiffs seek more than $350 million, which would be tripled under antitrust laws.


They are rooting their case in testimony from former Apple engineer Rod Schultz, who testified on Friday that he worked on a project meant to 'block 100 percent of non-iTunes clients.' Plaintiffs lawyer Coughlin reminded jurors that Schultz said he did not see the iTunes update as a product improvement.


'I don't think there was a more genuine witness to talk about whether the algorithm that he invented was a product or security improvement,' Coughlin said.


But Isaacson pointed out that the ex-Apple engineer conceded that the software did contain meaningful new features. Apple's digital music strategy was grounded in a belief that the iPod and iTunes worked best together, he said, touting the company's tradition of tightly integrated software and services.


'When you don't have Apple plus iPod, you're getting two steering wheels and, even worse, two drivers,' Isaacson said.


Continuing the closing argument, Apple lawyer Karen Dunn questioned why Apple would have targeted RealNetworks, a small player, while ignoring a giant like Amazon if its aim was to stifle competition. The loopholes exploited by RealNetworks were the real problem, she stressed.


'The issue is not being a competitor,' she said. 'The issue is doing damage to the system and creating security problems.'


Contact Julia Love at 408-920-5536 or follow her at http://ift.tt/1qlfSY1


Anonymous reaps revenge on Pirate Bay


ANONYMOUS HACKERS have taken out their frustration about The Pirate Bay site being down on the Swedish government, while a former rival tracker has restarted a version of the torrent site.


Isohunt, another popular torrent tracker, has launched oldpiratebay.org, which recreates the entire database of the mostly erstwhile Swedish site, and is at present unblocked by UK ISPs.


A number of fake Pirate Bay trackers have been popping up in the proxy addresses previously mirroring the original Pirate Bay, but most of these have no functionality or, at their worst, malware payloads.


Isohunt, which appears to be as kosher as an illegal torrenting site can be, said that Pirate Bay represented 'a symbol of liberty for a generation of internet users' and that 'nothing will be forgotten'.


However, this did not stop urine-swigging laptop revolutionary group Anonymous from showing its displeasure through a series of hacks on Swedish websites in retaliation for the raids that brought down the original Pirate Bay site, possibly permanently.


A Pastebin document has been released containing log-in details for government email accounts following the hack from a small group calling itself Hagash Team, but trading under the Anonymous banner.


Emails from Swedish police and New Zealand were hacked in response to seizure of the servers of The Pirate Bay http://t.co/N7Mg8PBsvW


- Anonymous (@AnonymousGlobo) December 15, 2014

Swedish telco Telia was also hacked on Friday causing disruption to some customers' telephone and internet connections. This too is believed to be a retaliation attack by Anoymous.


Swedish authorities don't seem to be in any position to pat themselves on the back for a job well done.


Torrent traffic dropped significantly in the hours after the attack, but Variety reported that levels of torrenting had returned to normal within a few days.


At its lowest ebb, torrenting was reduced to 95 million users against an average of 99.9 million during November.


However, in the past couple of days, the renewed interest has seen the figure jump to 102 million.


This will probably settle for the month on average, but proves once again that you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. Or urine. ยต


LG is about to take TVs to the next level with quantum dots


A new kind of display is about to make TV images appear even more lifelike. LG will show off a TV based on quantum-dot technology at CES 2015 in January, and the company also plans to start selling it later that year.


Quantum-dot tech uses extremely tiny crystals - measuring 2 to 10 nanometers - to generate light. (That's so small that the tiniest crystals are only about 20 atoms thick.) Different-size crystals generate different colors, and the size of the crystals can be controlled precisely. As a result, quantum-dot displays can reproduce color that's even better and more accurate than OLED screens, the current leading tech for advanced TVs.


There are already a few products with quantum-dot displays, most notably Amazon's Kindle Fire HDX, and China's TCL announced in the fall it would build the world's first TV based on the tech.


With LG, which sells roughly 17% of the world's TVs, on board, quantum-dot sets will have a shot at going mainstream. The company didn't say how big the TV would be, only that it would have 4K (a.k.a. Ultra HD) resolution, it would be on display at CES, and that the product would join its official lineup in 2015 (i.e., it won't just be a technology demo).


In LG's set, the quantum dots are in a 'film' that's mounted on the TV's LED backlight but, otherwise, the technology is just like an LCD model. With the quantum dots, however, the color gamut is increased by more than 30%, LG says.


One big downside of quantum-dot TVs has been their reliance on cadmium, which is considered a toxic substance. But LG says it has solved this problem, claiming its new quantum-dot set is cadmium-free.


LG didn't give a price for the TV, and it probably won't until it's ready to ship, but there's reason to be optimistic: TCL's set sold for one-third the price of an comparable OLED TV. The most advanced technology doesn't always need to be the most expensive.


Have something to add to this story? Share it in the comments.

T

Summary:T-Mobile continues its aggressive march on competing carriers by launching the first cellular Google Nexus 9 and offering low cost unlimited data, voice, and text business plans.


(Image: T-Mobile) Google launched the WiFi-only model of the Nexus 9, see my full review, in early November and this week T-Mobile announced they have the first LTE version available now for $599.76.


The LTE Google Nexus 9, made by HTC, may be coming to other carriers eventually, but T-Mobile is the only place to buy one at this time. This model of the Nexus 9 is the same as the WiFi version with the addition of LTE support. That means it has an 8.9 inch display, front-facing stereo speakers, Android 5.0 Lollipop, and a 64-bit NVIDIA Tegra K1 processor.


The HTC Nexus 9 can be purchased at T-Mobile's Underground site for $0 down and $24.99/month for 24 months. T-Mobile lets you add the Nexus 9 to your account for $10 per month that matches your Simple Choice data plan. You can also choose to get 200MB of data free. If you are not a T-Mobile customer and just want to buy blocks of data, prices range from $20 to $70 per month with data allowances from 1GB to 11GB per month, repectively.


T-Mobile also announced new low-cost unlimited everything business and family plans this week. You can sign up for two business lines with unlimited 4G LTE data, voice calls, and text for just $100. Additional employees are $40 for the same level of coverage, up to as many lines as you need for your business.


T-Mobile also announced a new small business plan for those who don't need unlimited data. Businesses can sign up for four lines for $100 with 2.5GB of data per line. These plan options are available now for a limited time. T-Mobile states that there is no expiration date of the plan once you sign up so get on the plan you need now before it's too late.


'Half


After successfully porting two of Valve's most popular franchises to the NVIDIA Shield, today's news is only natural -- Half-Life 2: Episode One is now available for download on Google Play as a Shield exclusive. The expansion's launch is notable not only as yet another high-profile PC game worming its way into the Android ecosystem, but also as a possible marker of something else: the slow death of NVIDIA's original Shield handheld. NVIDIA's original gaming portable is still available, but it won't run the platform's latest release: that's a tablet exclusive.


It's not the first tablet exclusive game to come to the Shield: the slate launched with a handful of Tegra K1 optimized games, including a handful of native Android games and Trine 2. There were enhanced ports of Half-Life 2 and Portal on the tablet too, but those titles were available on the company's handheld Shield as well. Leaving out the portable isn't too surprising ( Half-Life 2 ran significantly better on the tablet, after all), but be forewarned: the Tegra 4 is apparently getting a little long in the teeth.


Shield </a>Featured Stories A tale of two Chromebooks: one size doesn't fit all Chromebook 2 review (11-inch, late 2014): Samsung's entry-level laptop returns with longer battery life Toshiba Chromebook 2 review: great screen, but the battery life takes a hit Alienware Alpha review: almost the Steam Machine you're looking for ASUS ZenWatch review: subtle and stylish, with a few shortcomings 'The Crew': The Joystiq Review The world's slimmest smartphone is now 4.75mm thick

Xiaomi is now the fourth


Brent Lewin | Bloomberg | Getty Images


Watch out Apple and Samsung, the Chinese company Xiaomi is creeping up in the ranks of smartphone-makers.


Read More 'China's Apple' Xiaomi's expansion is under threat


The company is now the fourth-biggest seller of smartphones worldwide, right behind Huawei, according to Gartner.


Xiaomi sold 15.8 million units in the third quarter of this year, a 322 percent increase from the same period a year ago, when Gartner reported it sold 3.6 million units.


Xiaomi isn't the only Chinese smartphone-maker that saw growth in sales year over year.


Three of the top five smartphone-makers worldwide are Chinese companies including Huawei, Xiaomi and Lenovo. Collectively, these three companies accounted for about 15 percent of all smartphone sales in the third quarter.


The other two leading handset companies were Samsung, which sold 73.2 million units, and Apple, which sold 38.2 million smartphones.


Read More China's Xiaomi makes strides in smartphone race


Apple's iPhones sales grew 26 percent from a year ago, while Samsung's sales dropped 10.8 percent, according to Gartner.


In China alone, which is Samsung's biggest market, its sales fell 28.6 percent.


Tech Companies Back Microsoft in Ireland Email Warrant Case

Corporate lobbyists, news organizations and academics joined forces with Microsoft on Monday in the software company's legal battle with the U.S. government over access to customer data stored overseas. The diverse set of interests filed briefs with a federal appeals court in New York, urging it to reverse a judge's order that Microsoft turn over emails from a data center in Ireland. They argued that turning them over would jeopardize the future of international cloud computing. Technology companies including Apple and AT&T also filed briefs supporting Microsoft's bid to fend off a government search warrant for the emails.


Microsoft began fighting the warrant in 2013, saying that U.S. prosecutors were overreaching by demanding data held in a foreign country without the assistance of local authorities. It is not known whose emails are sought, but prosecutors said they wanted them for a drug investigation. The prosecutors said their demand did not violate Irish sovereignty because Microsoft's U.S. employees had control of the emails and could retrieve them without going to Ireland. In July, U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska agreed and ordered Microsoft to comply.


Others supporting Microsoft in court briefs included the American Civil Liberties Union and 35 computer science and engineering professors. A ruling by the appeals court is likely months away. The case is Microsoft v. U.S., 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 14-2985.


IN-DEPTH SOCIAL - Reuters

First published December 15 2014, 3:20 PM


Sony Pictures hack takes yet another weird twist


The Sony Pictures Entertainment hack has taken yet another weird twist with hackers apparently offering to withhold data stolen from the company's employees.


On Sunday the group claiming responsibility for the crippling Nov. 24 hack offered not to release some email correspondence from Sony Pictures' employees. The group urged employees to contact them if they don't want their correspondence released.


There was no way to determine how many, if any employees, had supplied their details.


The post, which claimed to be from the shadowy Guardians of Peace, or GOP, group, appeared on file sharing sites Pastebin and Friendpaste, according to the website Recode.


'Message to SPE Staffers,' it read. 'We have a plan to release emails and privacy of the Sony Pictures employees. If you don't want your privacy to be released, tell us your name and business title to take off your data.'


Sunday's message also contained links to several file sharing sites for obtaining the group's latest leaks. Clearly keen to maintain the pressure on Sony, the group vowed to release 'larger quantities of data,' which it described as 'a Christmas gift,' reiterating a similar GOP message posted on Saturday.


Experts have noted the resolve of the attack's perpetrators, who seem intent on prolonging Sony's pain.


'Whoever it is, they must feel like they are immune to retaliation,' Jim Lewis, director and senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told FoxNews.com, in an email. 'They are also really motivated to keep it up this long - most of these incidents are more like smash-and-grab.'


Sunday's post is the latest in a flurry of cyber assaults aimed at Sony Pictures, which have included leaks of confidential data and unreleased movies, as well as threats against Sony employees. The producers of James Bond films have also acknowledged that an early version of the screenplay for the new movie 'Spectre' was among the material stolen in the massive Sony Pictures cyberattack.


'Sony is receiving repeated body blows from the breach, which is perhaps indicative of the intention to damage the reputation of the company,' wrote Chris Boyd, malware intelligence analyst at Malwarebytes Labs, in an email to FoxNews.com. 'Typically a big company breach is all about stealthy data theft and low profile operations, however in this case the motivation appears focused on creating crippling headlines - it could almost be the beginning of a Bond film itself.'


The finger of suspicion has already been pointed at North Korea over the hack, although Sony Pictures recently denied a report that it was poised to blame Pyongyang for the attack. The studio's forthcoming film 'The Interview,' starring Seth Rogen and James Franco as journalists enlisted to assassinate dictator Kim Jong-un, has outraged North Korea.


There has also been plenty of speculation that the cyberattack was an inside job.


With the shockwaves from the hack still reverberating, Sony Pictures has reportedly demanded that at least three media outlets stop reporting stories based on documents obtained by hackers.


The Center for Strategic and International Studies' Lewis told FoxNews.com that the attack has also shone a spotlight on hackers' use of file sharing sites such as Pastebin.


While Saturday and Sunday's GOP posts have been removed from Pastebin, a GOP message titled 'Gift of Sony for the 8th day: GOP at Christmas (2),' which apparently corresponds to Sunday's Pastebin message, is still available on Friendpaste.


A spokesman for Pastebin told FoxNews.com that it received two requests about the posts related to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DCMA). 'We always comply with such request when the items in question contain sensitive data,' he added, in an email to FoxNews.com.


Friendpaste was unavailable for comment.


Sony Pictures Entertainment has not yet responded to a request for comment on this story from FoxNews.com. A spokeswoman for the FBI, which is investigating the hack, told FoxNews.com that its probe is ongoing.


FIVERRDIRECTORY.BLOGSPOT.COM contributed to this report.

Follow James Rogers on Twitter @ jamesjrogers


FCC Won't Issue Public Notice On Net Neutrality Options

Source: Staff feels record will be sufficient and notice would be unnecessary delay 12/15/2014 03:43:00 PM Eastern



The FCC will not put out a formal public notice (PN) seeking additional comment on any of the proposed hybrid variations on new Open Internet rules offered up by various parties. There had been some speculation such a PN could be issued, with sources saying earlier in the month that the chairman had made no decision one way or the other. But Politico had reported the FCC was leaning toward not issuing the notice, and a source familiar with the FCC's plans, who agreed to speak on background, said Monday that a PN was not going to be issued. The source said FCC staffers feel there has been sufficient input on those suggestions, including filings in recent weeks that made them more comfortable with not putting out a separate notice. Such a notice could delay the process given that the commission would have to set a comment period, even if it were only a couple of weeks, and then vet those new comments. For the full story go to Multichannel.com.


BT in talks to buy EE for £12.5bn


Telecoms giant BT is in exclusive talks to buy EE - Britain's largest mobile network group.


It said the period of exclusivity would last 'several weeks' to enable it to carry out the necessary negotiations.


'The proposed acquisition would enable BT to accelerate its existing mobility strategy,' it said in a statement.


A takeover of EE would create a communications giant covering fixed-line phones, broadband, mobile and TV.


According to Citigroup, EE holds 33.8% of the UK mobile market by revenue.


In November, BT said it was in talks to buy either EE, jointly owned by Deutsche Telekom and Orange, or O2 which is owned by Spanish firm Telefonica.


EE's owners - France's Orange and Germany's Deutsche Telekom - put plans for an initial public offering of EE on hold this year.


BT spun off its own mobile network, BT Cellnet, now 02, in 2002. In 2005 it was acquired by Spain's Telefonica for £17.7bn.


Three of the top five smartphone companies are now Chinese

As Xiaomi has grown rapidly, and Lenovo's deal to buy Motorola from Google has closed, three of the world's top five smartphone vendors are now from China, according to third-quarter statistics released today by Gartner.



South Korea's Samsung and US-based Apple remain the world's No. 1 and No. 2 smartphone makers, by a significant margin, according to Gartner. But Samsung's third-quarter sales declined by 7 million units from the same period last year, while Apple's increased by almost 8 million, according to Gartner's tallies.


(Note: These estimates differ from Apple's officially released statistics. But Gartner is reporting 'sales to end users' while Apple reports shipments-allowing for differences in inventory, among other potential discrepancies.)


One storyline worth paying attention to is the rise of China's Huawei, Xiaomi, and Lenovo, which now command a combined 15.5% of the global smartphone market. It's unlikely they'll immediately compete-outside of China, at least-at the high end of the market, where Apple dominates. But at the mid-to-low end, they are already a real force.


Making a profit there, of course, is another story. Our first glance at Xiaomi's finances, via a Chinese regulatory filing, suggest razor-thin margins.


Skype Real


Imagine being able to speak another language without having to learn it. Skype is making it possible.


The Microsoft-owned chat service on Monday launched the first phase of its Skype Translator preview program first announced back in May. Jointly developed by Microsoft researchers and Skype engineers, the new feature uses real-time speech translation technologies to let you have a conversation with someone over the Internet who speaks a different language.


This means you can have a conversation just like normal, and Skype will translate what you say into the other person's language in 'near real-time.' Then, when the other person says something, it will be translated back to your language.


At this point, the feature is still pretty limited. It only works with Spanish and English, but Microsoft said it plans to add more languages soon. In the meantime, it will translate more than 40 different languages if you're just instant messaging, not speaking. You'll also need a device running Windows 8.1 or Windows 10 Technical Preview to try it out at the moment.


'Skype Translator relies on machine learning, which means that the more the technology is used, the smarter it gets,' the Skype team wrote in a blog post. 'We are starting with English and Spanish, and as more people use the Skype Translator preview with these languages, the quality will continually improve.'


For a look at Skype Translator in action, check out the video below. To check it out for yourself, sign up to be a preview user.


For more, see PCMag's roundup of Skype tips in the slideshow above.


Hackers offer to spare some Sony employees from stolen data leaks


Image: Nick Ut/Associated Press


The hacker group that calls itself GOP or 'Guardians of Peace' doesn't seem to have any plans to stop dumping information pilfered from its hacking of Sony Pictures Entertainment to the press. But now they might be offering some Sony employees a way out if they contact the hackers.


In the latest data dump that was sent to reporters, which happened on Sunday, the hackers included what appears to be a merciful message to Sony employees.


'We have a plan to release emails and privacy of the Sony Pictures employees,' the message reads. 'If you don't want your privacy to be released, tell us your name and business title to take off your data.'


That's about as conciliatory as the hackers' message gets, however. In the past few weeks, the hacking collective has leaked controversial email correspondence between Sony executives, as well as financial documents and the personal information of celebrities.


'The sooner SPE accept our demands, the better, of course,' the post reads. 'The farther time goes by, the worse state SPE will be put into and we will have Sony go bankrupt in the end.'


The Guardians of the Peace's demands remain unclear. It's been widely speculated that the hackers want Sony to pull the release of The Interview, a comedy that dramatizes an assassination attempt of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. There hasn't been a ton of evidence to support a North Korean link, however.


The hackers continue to threaten to release more stolen data, this time as a 'Christmas gift.'


'We are preparing for you a Christmas gift,' the latest message reads. 'The gift will be larger quantities of data. And it will be more interesting. The gift will surely give you much more pleasure and put Sony Pictures into the worst state.'


The post then provides a list of emails to contact for those want in on the 'gift.'


For its part, Sony has demanded that the media stop publishing information about its stolen data. Many publications, including Mashable, have published private conversations and information about the company from the leaks.


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