From robot angst and iTunes invasions to hacking and net neutrality, it was an eventful year.
Top 10 Technology Stories
One of the great things about technology – and certainly one of the reasons why I like writing about it – is that it’s never dull. With technology’s rapid, ever-changing nature, there’s always something new and interesting going on.
This year was no exception. Major tech stories abounded, veritably on a daily basis. Some, however, were bigger than others.
Here are my top 10 technology stories of the year.
10. Apple’s U2 gaffe (pictured above):
Apple and U2 got into hot water in September after they teamed up to insert copies of the band’s new album, Songs of Innocence, into users’ iTunes libraries – whether people wanted it or not.
The episode seems like a tempest in a teapot compared to some other items on this list, but for many internet users it was the tip of a much bigger iceberg – the modification of personal files by a company without the individual’s express permission.
Ultimately, Apple issued instructions on how to remove the offending album and Bono sort of apologized. But who’s to say someone, somewhere won’t try something like this again?
9. Amazon battles Hachette:
Amazon and Hachette, the book publisher behind such luminaries as J.K. Rowling, were locked in a war of attrition. The two companies couldn’t agree on terms, so Amazon played hardball by making Hachette’s books difficult if not impossible to buy.
Hachette appears to have won, especially if the damage to Amazon’s reputation is considered. The book-selling giant – beloved by customers – couldn’t escape the battle without looking like a bully.
Going into 2015, it’s a fair bet the company has attracted the unwanted gaze of antitrust watchdogs.
8. Facebook buys Oculus Rift:
Anyone who has tried Oculus Rift has had the same reaction: wow! Virtual reality, promised for so long, is now finally becoming reality.
That’s why it was such a shocker that Facebook bought the Silicon Valley startup for $2 billion in March. Mark Zuckerberg believes Oculus can be a “platform” on which an entirely new virtual world can be built, and he’s probably right.
The only question is, can Facebook shepherd that vision into reality? And how soon?
7. Google buys Nest and Dropcam:
Not one to be upstaged by Facebook, Google also went on a shopping spree in 2014 by dropping $3 billion on smart thermostat maker Nest in January and wi-fi home camera outfit Dropcam for half a billion in June.
It’s pretty obvious where Google is going with the purchases – the search giant is looking to establish a beachhead in the connected home, also known as the internet of things.
Along with its numerous robotics acquisitions over the past few years, it’s clear Google is thinking about how its business will change once everything under the sun is connected to the internet.
6. Google’s European woes:
Just as Amazon’s size and power is now raising eyebrows in the United States, so too is Google’s growing girth and importance causing problems in Europe.
In May, the company lost a key court case in Spain and began removing links to online content in compliance with “right to be forgotten” rules.
Not content to stop there, the European parliament last month voted in favour of breaking up Google’s search functions from its other businesses. While the vote has no binding power, it does give ammunition to the regulators who do have such abilities.
The upcoming year could get even rougher for Google in Europe.
Just when it looked like video games were becoming respectable, along came a lengthy scandal that reinforced some of the medium’s worst stereotypes.
It started with the release of a game by developer Zoe Quinn, who was then accused by an ex-boyfriend of exchanging sexual favours for positive coverage from a journalist.
That kicked off a firestorm of misogyny and general infantalism, ranging from silly name-calling to worrying death threats. Perhaps the goofiest part of it all is that one of the Baldwin actors gave the whole thing a name by attaching the “Gamergate” hashtag to it on Twitter.
Somehow, the kernel of an actual issue – ethics in games journalism – got lost amid all the ugly misogyny.
4. Uber mess:
If only gamers were the nastiest characters of the year. Taxi-hailing phenomenon Uber made headlines all year, almost none of them good.
Whether it was alleged rapes by drivers, fighting bans by cities, executives suggesting the company should dig up dirt on unfriendly journalists, employees snooping on customer data, overt sexism or exploitative “surge” pricing, Uber spent much of 2014 looking like it was being run by brain-dead frat boys.
Heading into 2015, Uber is the veritable Charlie Sheen of tech concerns. Can the company clean up its act?
3. Robot angst:
Hardly a week went by without someone new chiming in on the coming robot apocalypse.
Whether it was study after study on what human jobs won’t exist in a few years or luminaries such as Stephen Hawking warning about the dangers of artificial intelligence, 2014 was a heck of a year for the robot fear industry. No wonder there’s another Terminator movie in the works.
Optimism about the new possibilities and opportunities that robots will usher in, however, was in short supply. The few individuals who suggested as much, such as Google chairman Eric Schmidt, didn’t get nearly as much ink.
2. Sony hack:
It’s amazing that this month’s Sony hack boiled down to whether or not the company would release The Interview, the Seth Rogen comedy about a plot to assassinate North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un.
Sony has released the film after initially backing down to hacker demands, thereby earning the scorn of freedom lovers everywhere including U.S. President Barack Obama.
But there is so much more to the story, and the ramifications will only truly be felt in 2015. Outstanding issues: were North Korean hackers really responsible, and if not, why did the FBI and Obama lie about it?
Who else is vulnerable and who’s next? Will the hack motivate any change or even investigations into Hollywood’s notoriously shady accounting methods? And most importantly, is Angelina Jolie really out of her mind?
1. Net neutrality:
Without a doubt, the biggest technology story of the year was the ongoing battle over net neutrality in the United States.
The fight had two sparks: first up was cable provider Comcast trying to charge Netflix more so that the streaming service’s customers would get good connections.
Then, newly installed Federal Communications Commission head Tom Wheeler suggested such an arrangement – effectively a two-tiered internet – should be allowed.
That cued howls of outrage from the tech community and internet users alike, who argued that internet service providers shouldn’t be allowed to impose paid priorities or any other kind of favouritism on their traffic.
Nearly four million individuals sent their disapproval to the FCC, with many instead supporting the reclassification of broadband internet as a “Title II” service, which would give the regulator full legal powers to enforce net neutrality.
Obama himself supports such a move.
The FCC’s response is due in early 2015. With so many of the biggest internet companies based in and operating out of the United States, it’s a decision that will affect the whole world.