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The higher you go, the harder you fall. Ask Lenovo, the Beijing-based PC maker. Since acquiring IBM's personal computer business in 2005, Lenovo had been going from strength to strength, expanding business to 160 countries. It peaked last year, when it became the world's largest personal computer vendor.

Lenovo, however, is unlikely to repeat the feat this year. Its reputation is now in free fall, thanks to a foolish move it made last year. In September, Lenovo decided to ship notebooks preloaded with an adware called Superfish. The company thought it was adding value to its products, but it really was not. A rather fishy program, Superfish tracks searches and browsing activity to display additional, and often unwanted, ads for users. It takes up bandwidth and memory and makes computers vulnerable to phishing. Techies say Lenovo betrayed customers by preinstalling Superfish. “[It's] quite possibly the single-worst thing I have seen a manufacturer do to its customer base,” wrote Marc Rogers, a US hacker, on his blog.

After some rather clumsy attempts to downplay the scandal, Lenovo admitted recently that it had “messed up”. It issued a security advisory with instructions on how to remove Superfish from devices. But it was too little, too late. Last week, a customer filed for damages from Lenovo and Superfish for making her a victim of “fraudulent” business practices. If others follow suit, Lenovo is in big trouble.

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