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Nominations closing in
Among a bounty of flops, flubs, and faceplants, Cringely picks tech's 10 biggest blunders we've seen in the first half of the year
As we celebrate the end of the first half of the last year of our lifetimes (damn those Mayans and their apocalyptic predictions), it's a good time to reflect on the more notable miscues of 2012 -- because we might not get this chance again.
Here's my list of the top (or more accurately, bottom) screwups of this year so far.
1. The Facebook faceplant
It was the most eagerly anticipated public offering since the Greeks handed the Trojans that big-ass horse -- and the results were about as disastrous for small-time investors. Instead of a return to boom times for high-tech stocks, we witnessed a clusterfrak of epic proportions. Before shares began trading, Nasdaq had a meltdown. After a brief climb, the stock swooned and has yet to recover, trading at two-thirds the initial price as I write this. Why? On its IPO roadshow, Facebook had given information about its prospective mobile revenues (or lack thereof) to the big banks but failed to share it with the investing public. It seems Mark Zuckerberg had customized his Facebook settings to "Share with major institutional investors only."
2. Patent absurdity
If at times it seemed this past spring that the tech industry had been taken over by an insane patent attorney posse, that's because it was. Facebook and Yahoo, Apple and Samsung, Oracle and Google -- the list feels endless. It seems even the judges have had enough. In June, federal judge Richard Posner canceled a trial between Motorola and Apple, calling Motorola's claims "ridiculous" and Apple's filings "frivolous" and ultimately dismissed the case with extreme prejudice. Now if we could just get the other 3,300 federal judges to follow his lead, we might be onto something.
3. Yahoos at the Resumegates
Newly minted CEO Scott Thompson had barely begun laying off employees at Yahoo and suing Facebook for patent violations when it was revealed that his curricula vitae was really a crapula vitae. No, he did not have a degree in computer science. It was a mistake, he said -- but one that had been following him for more than a decade. Disgruntled investor Dan Loeb, unhappy with the choice of Thompson as CEO, used the fake resume to put Thompson back on the unemployment lines three months after he took the job no sane person wants. Loeb is apparently happier having new interim CEO Ross Levinsohn. Levinsohn's biggest claim to fame? He helped News Corp. acquire MySpace for nearly $600 million in 2005.
4. Seriously, Siri?
Siri, the most notable new feature of the ho-hum iPhone 4S, sometimes says the darnedest things. Like when bloggers at WMPower User asked her, "What's the best cellphone ever?" and Apple's Intelligent Assistant piped up, "Nokia Lumia 900." How did this atrocity happen? PC World's Ed Oswalt has the real story: Siri bases some of her answers on data gathered by geeky search engine Wolfram-Alpha, which takes its information about smartphones from, of all places, Best Buy. The big-box retailer's website had a handful of five-star reviews for the Nokia 900, and that was good enough for Siri -- at least until Apple reprogrammed her to respond with the name of the One True Phone from now on.
5. Google's lying and spying
Did Google knowingly slurp down data from millions of open Wi-Fi networks for years and not tell anyone about it? Yes, it did. But it also continually stalled investigators probing into the spying and lied about what it knew and when it knew it. The true extent of those lies became public only after Google was forced to release an unredacted version of a highly censored 25-page FTC report on the matter last April. Remember "Don't be evil"? Me neither.
6. SOPA, PIPA, and CISPA -- oh my
The three-headed beast of ill-considered Congressional legislation went on a rampage through the Internet village this spring. While the Net's inhabitants succcessfully cut off two heads via a well-supported Internet "blackout," CISPA remains -- in large part due to quiet support by heavyweights like Facebook, IBM, and Microsoft. The Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act was passed by a House majority in April and awaits judgement in the Senate, where it's competing with two similar bills. In response, a group of opponents has banded together and formed the Internet Defense League. If we can just can convince Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk to sign on, we might win this thing yet.
7. Cold war code wars
Turns out we're cyber war badasses after all. Under a program initiated under President Bush and continued under President Obama, the United States did in fact inject the Stuxnet worm -- codeveloped by the NSA and the Israeli secret service -- into an Iranian uranium processing plant, screwing up the centrifuges and spoiling the batch. Unfortunately Stuxnet didn't stay there, spreading to other computer systems. Now a Stuxnet cousin known as Flame is burning its way across networks in the Middle East, with no telling where or when it'll stop.
8. WinPho blows smoke
Microsoft is so proud of the speed of its Windows Phone 7.5 operating system that it set up a Smoked by Windows Phone contest last May for visitors to its Microsoft Stores. If any other smartphone user could defeat a WinPho7 at a series of basic tasks, that person would walk off with a $1,000 HP laptop. A few days into the contest, Android user Sahas Katta defeated a Windows Phone at a basic task, at which point store employees declared the contest null and void. (Roughly a day later, Microsoft higher-ups realized what schmucks they looked like and reversed themselves, giving Katta the laptop after all.) It seems the marketing geniuses who came up with the idea were smoking something else.
9. For Apple, "j***break" is a four-letter word
Who says Apple doesn't have a sense of humor? On the same day that hearings were being held on whether to amend the DMCA to continue to allow jailbreaking of iPhones, someone at the Apple Store censored the word "jailbreak" -- including on the epic Thin Lizzy recording of the same name. That, or maybe they really preferred "The Boys Are Back in Town." (It is a better song, after all.)
10. Leak house
In January, hacker group Lords of Dharmaraja posted source code for Norton AntiVirus. In February, Anonymous tapped a phone confab between the FBI and Scotland Yard about -- yes -- how to catch Anonymous, then posted the audio on YouTube. That same month, security consultants Stratfor Global had 5 million of its emails posted online, courtesy of those same anons. In March, a zero-day remote desktop exploit spread across the Web. Its source: A Microsoft program intended to identify and contain zero-day exploits. Recently, LinkedIn had more than 6 million hashed user passwords stolen and posted online by a Russian hacker. Will the last site too lazy to shore up its security practices please turn off the InterWebs?