New York - The 21-year-old computer whiz whose legal tussle with Sony triggered one of the largest assaults by the hacker community on a single company has found himself a steady job - with Facebook.
George Hotz became a star among hackers under the internet pseudonym name GeoHot when he “unlocked” Apple's iPhone and then the Sony PlayStation games console. He posted details of how to alter software on the devices so that tech-savvy users could use them for unauthorised games and other applications.
Facebook swooped to hire Mr Hotz last month, just weeks after he settled the lawsuit from Sony that so enraged fellow hackers that they launched an attack on the company that has cost it tens of millions of dollars to date.
The social networking giant has not said what Mr Hotz will be working on, though there was speculation he could be involved in building anti-hacker defences at Facebook, or in the company's plans to develop a rival to Apple's App Store for software downloads.
Mr Hotz is straight out of hacker central casting, a teenage computer genius who grew up in New Jersey and was identified early as a talented youngster, attending a special programme for bright children from the US state school system. He led his school in national robot-building championships and appeared on national television demonstrating his creations.
It was in 2008 that he achieved fame in the hacker community for conducting the first so-called “jailbreak” of an Apple iPhone. His hack allowed users to get round Apple's tight controls on what apps can be downloaded to the phone and which mobile phone networks it can be used on.
And then in 2009 and 2010, he chronicled on his blog his attempts to similarly unlock Sony's PlayStation 3 console, and earlier this year he posted “root keys” for the PS3 so that others could emulate his work and build homegrown software on the device. Sony launched a lawsuit days later, saying Mr Hotz was encouraging the use of pirated games.
In an interview on the cable TV channel G4, Mr Hotz put himself in the tradition of radio hams of old and said he was fighting for the right for computer fans to tinker with their equipment. “This is about a lot more than what I did and me,” he said of the lawsuit. “It's about whether you really own that device that you purchase.”
Facebook's decision to hire Mr Hotz sends a powerful signal that it will be a welcoming employer for the brightest engineers. Google bosses last year said they were in a “war for talent” with Facebook and other Silicon Valley firms, and the war is only likely to hot up now that money is flowing into the technology industry from investors keen to find the next Facebook.
As Mr Hotz was yesterday ensconced in his new role, the fallout from his actions continued to reverberate. Sir Howard Stringer, the British businessman who runs Sony, faced calls for his resignation at the Japanese firm's annual shareholder meeting.
The company was forced to temporarily shut down its PlayStation Network of online games after disclosing in April that hackers had accessed personal information on 77 million of its customers, potentially including their credit card details.
Sir Howard said on Tuesday that the company had been the victim of a revenge attack by supporters of Mr Hotz. “We believe that we first became the subject of attack because we tried to protect our intellectual property, our content, in this case videogames,” he said. - The Independent
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