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Just be thankful you aren’t associated with any of these people.
It’s that time of the year again, when people all across America sit down with their families to a nice home-cooked meal and collectively laugh at the people who did more embarrassing stuff than them.
Ted Cruz declaring 'Obamacare for the internet'
Republican Senator from Texas Ted Cruz swiftly responded to President Obama’s recent call for the FCC to reclassify and regulate the internet like a utility by declaring on Twitter that "net neutrality is Obamacare for the internet." No one – probably Cruz included – quite knew what he meant by this, other than to pander to the people who already support him. If people think Obamacare is bad, then just call net neutrality Obamacare and they’ll think that’s bad, too. The worst part is, for some people, it’ll probably work.
Satya Nadella doesn’t think women should ask for raises
Sticking with the theme of men in power making embarrassing statements, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella found himself backpedaling last month after making questionable comments about women in the workplace while speaking at an event focused on women in the workplace. At the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, Nadella advised women that "it's not really about asking for a raise, but knowing and having faith that the system will give you the right raise." Surprisingly, these comments didn’t go over well, and Nadella soon found himself claiming that he didn’t mean exactly what he said, outright apologizing for the comments, and declaring that Microsoft pays men and women equally.
The tech industry’s relationship with women was far more damaged by the so-called gamergate controversy. It was all sparked in August after a jilted ex-boyfriend of a female independent video game developer claimed his ex was carrying on an affair with a video game journalist for Kotaku.com, which resulted in positive reviews of her games. Any discussion about ethics in gaming journalism, which many gamers called for in the aftermath, was overshadowed by the ensuing online harassment of women in the video game industry that included direct threats of violence against them and their loved ones. The fallout would see Intel, Adobe, and other companies withdrawing their advertisements from several game-related websites, which would only further complicate the issue.
Uber, Lyft, Hailo, Airbnb
Speaking of companies with insanely inflated valuations, the so-called sharing economy’s many flaws were exposed this year. Despite seeing massive financial success, Uber and Lyft can’t seem to avoid negative press: surge pricing, regulatory issues, poaching each other’s drivers, gouging their own drivers’ income, and, more recently, threatening journalists. The tactics in the ride-sharing market got so dirty that Hailo simply packed up and left North America, retreating to European markets. Airbnb, a similar service that allows people to rent out their homes temporarily, saw reports of less-than-perfect guests holding sex parties in rented apartments and was ultimately deemed illegal in New York City.
Snapchat's massive nude photo leak
Although the leak of millions of users' private photos and videos appears to stem from third-party services that Snapchat is not involved with, some of the blame still lands on the shoulders of the company that has long promised that its users' photos and videos would disappear as soon as they've been viewed. The company was quick to deflect responsibility, but this isn’t the first time it’s been in hot water after people found out that it isn’t as ephemeral as it seems. The whole controversy didn’t seem to slow the company down much, however. Snapchat, a free app with no real source of revenue, is somehow still valued at $12 billion.
iCloud's high-profile nude photo leak
Prior to Snapchat’s controversy, the release of compromising personal photos of several celebrities – most notably, if only because she addressed the leak in a Vanity Fair interview, being Jennifer Lawrence – led to widespread criticism of Apple’s iCloud cloud storage service. Although the images were reportedly stolen through phishing and brute-force attacks to obtain the celebrities’ usernames and passwords, a lot of people have no idea what any of that means, and pointed the finger at iCloud and Apple anyway.
iPhone 6 Plus gets bent
Another controversy that plagued Apple this fall involved claims that its iPhone 6 Plus, the largest iPhone ever, was bending against the thighs of its users when they sat down with the phone in their pocket. Apple downplayed the allegations and claimed only nine users actually encountered the issue. But this month, a video emerged on YouTube purporting to show more than 300 bent iPhone 6 Plus devices.
Microsoft's failed Surface tablet product placement
Microsoft has pushed its Surface tablet hard this year, including discretely placing the device in the hands of people who appear on TV. This part backfired. Microsoft gave the NFL $400 million to force players and coaches to use Surface tablets on sidelines just to watch broadcasters repeatedly refer to them as "iPads" during TV's most popular weekly program, Monday Night Football. The embarrassment even reached to politics, when CNN commentators during election night coverage were caught using their complimentary Surface tablets just to prop up or hide their personal iPads. Microsoft literally can’t give its tablet away.
The longer Google Glass in use, the worse its reputation appears to get among those who aren’t wearing them. This year, people have attacked Glass users and stolen their devices off their faces, banned the device from restaurants and other public places, and have developed tools that sniff out active Glass units in their vicinity and disrupt their internet connection. Google has tried to debunk the myths that have largely fueled the Glass hate, but they appear to have had little success. And just in time for Thanksgiving comes a Reuters report claiming that developers are abandoning their Glass plans for consumers, either developing enterprise apps for the technology or ignoring the technology altogether.
Anonabox's sketchy crowdfunding claims
In October, a Kickstarter campaign for the Anonabox, small piece of plug-in hardware that would allow internet users to browse anonymously from any location, raised $600,000 in donations in just four days. However, its success attracted the attention of a few internet sleuths who discovered that the hardware, which was billed as custom-designed and open source, was actually available in China. This led to doubts about the other claims about the Anonabox, and before long Kickstarter shut down its campaign and refunded donors. If you’re still interested, though, the Anonabox has resurfaced on Indiegogo, where it has once again surpassed its funding goal.
Silk Road 2.0
Exactly one year after it went live, the resurrection of the online drug marketplace that the FBI shut down in October 2013 was, you guessed it, shut down by the FBI. Those behind the service apparently didn’t think they would attract scrutiny by re-launching the service with the same name and even some of the same people. But an investigation involving international collaboration ultimately found the personal email address of the site’s alleged new operator, a San Francisco programmer named Blake Benthall, linked to one of the Silk Road 2.0's host servers.
Mt. Gox, Bitcoin in general
It's been a rough year for Bitcoin. After widespread publicity in 2013 helped push its value close to $1,000 per Bitcoin, the digital currency’s value has plummeted in 2014, from more than $770 in January to about $360 in November. Highlighting Bitcoin’s struggles was the demise of Mt. Gox, the Japanese Bitcoin exchange that handled as much as 70% of worldwide Bitcoin transactions by 2013 and which filed for bankruptcy in February, taking with it about $500 million worth of the currency. Of the 850,000 Bitcoins that were stolen, which Mt. Gox CEO Mark Karpelès said were taken by hackers, only 200,000 were reclaimed.
Newsweek's questionable Bitcoin unmasking
To reintroduce its formerly defunct print magazine in March, Newsweek made a bold claim – it had unmasked Satoshi Nakamoto, the creator of Bitcoin whose true identity almost no one knew. In a detailed article, Newsweek pointed to a California man hiding in plain sight in a modest home under the name Dorian Prentice Satoshi Nakamoto. The only problem is Dorian Nakamoto denies any ties to Bitcoin to this day, and is preparing to sue Newsweek for the unwanted attention and dismay the article brought him.
After a little more than 10 months as the CEO of Juniper Networks, Shaygan Kheradpir resigned, reportedly as a result of conflicts with the company’s board of directors and his own mishandling of customer negotiations. The latter excuse is all Juniper would provide in the way of explanation, but anonymous sources speaking to Bloomberg said "Juniper's board had started losing trust in Kheradpir over his time as CEO." As bad as the resignation looks for Kheradpir's resume, which boasts high-ranking executive positions at Barclays and Verizon, it's just as damaging to Juniper, which has struggled financially all year.
Stealthgenie maker InvoCode
In September, the U.S. Department of Justice arrested Hamad Akbar, CEO of Pakistani company InvoCode, for his company’s Stealthgenie mobile app designed for spying. The app was marketed to people who were suspicious that their significant others were having affairs, and was designed to run discretely in the background on Android, iOS, and BlackBerry devices, relaying all communications back to the person who secretly installed it. The DOJ authorized the FBI to take down the StealthGenie website, which was hosted at a data center in Virginia. The indictment was the first legal strike against consumer mobile apps designed to facilitate spying, which remain quite common and could come under fire in the aftermath.
FBI director's failed ban on mobile phone encryption
While federal law enforcement claimed some success against tech-related crime this year, FBI director James Comey still managed to embarrass himself with a thinly veiled attempt to make it easier to access data on smartphones. In September, Comey responded to Apple’s claims that its new mobile OS would allow users to encrypt their data by demanding Congress make it illegal for Apple and all other smartphone makers to do so, which Congress ruled was legal in the 1990s. When asked how smartphone companies could create encryption service that could only grant access to law enforcement, Comey admitted that he is "not smart enough technically to figure out how that might work," according to the Washington Post.
Comcast saw one of its worst PR disasters in recent memory this October. A customer who was charged more than $1,800 for services and equipment he never ordered or used claimed that the Comcast employee who handled his complaints turned around and called his employer, ultimately getting him fired from his job. According to the Consumerist, the customer mentioned the name of the firm where he worked as an accountant during the phone conversations with the Comcast rep, which somehow led to his firing.
This was probably one reason two separate cities have voted to prevent Comcast from serving their residents as a result of its merger with Time Warner Cable.
It didn’t take long for another retailer to steal the crown from Target as the latest victim of a massive breach of customer data. Home Depot’s breach revealed in September included at least 56 million debit and credit cards used at the store in a five-month period. Cybersecurity researcher and blogger Brian Krebs claimed the Home Depot attack used similar techniques applied to the Target hack in late 2013, malware designed for the embedded version of Windows running on point-of-sale machines. At this rate, though, it seems like Home Depot will simply have to wait for the next major retailer breach to come along and push it out of the spotlight.
In a time when over-priced consumer technology has exploded in popularity, RadioShack has fallen to the brink of extinction. In March, the company closed 1,100 of its retail outlets, the equivalent of 20% of all of its business, after reporting more than $500 million in losses from 2012 to 2013. In September, the company admitted in an SEC filing that it may soon need to file for bankruptcy and might not be able to fund its operations at all. With the beginning of the holiday shopping season, RadioShack will need a Christmas miracle to stay alive.
'Right to be forgotten'
In May, the European Union urged Google to honor internet users' "right to be forgotten" and remove links from search results involving inaccurate or embarrassing personal information that they requested to be taken down. The ruling hasn’t worked out exactly as planned. A concert pianist from Croatia, for example, cited the ruling in an attempt to get an unfavorable review of his album removed from The Washington Post. And BBC editorial policy head David Jordan claims Google removed the names of several people under trial for association with terrorist organization the Real IRA, "two of whom were subsequently convicted," Jordan said. The BBC plans to publish a list of its URLs that Google has removed under the law.
Facebook's battle with drag queens
Similarly, Facebook found itself embroiled in a controversy after enforcing its policy requiring users to use their birth names on their profiles. This led Facebook to ban several prominent drag queens who had used their stage names on their profiles. The debate dragged on for almost a month, until Facebook finally apologized in early October and adapted its policy in response. Strangely enough, the issue also opened the door for the social network Ello, which saw massive sudden growth in its user base as the social network of choice among those who protested Facebook's policy.
Hotel charges $500 for negative Yelp reviews
In August, the New York Post reported that the Union Street Guest House in Hudson, New York, hotel stated in its policy that guests who booked the hotel for weddings or other large events would need to pay a $500 fee for every negative review their guests posted to review sites like Yelp. The hotel tried to claim that it was a joke, but one former guest claimed the hotel still tried to collect a $500 payment in exchange for a negative review.
Despite the negative publicity, some hotels still haven't learned, with recent reports claiming an English hotel charged a guest about $156 for a negative review, almost three times more than they paid for their room.
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