id=”article-body” class=”row” section=”article-body”> The tech industry was riding high a decade ago: Facebook and Twitter were becoming vital tools for pro-democracy protesters around the world, Apple’s iPhone was taking off, and a new class of startups like Uber and TaskRabbit appeared ready to change the world.
As we close out the 2010s, the love affair we all had with tech has definitely soured.
Now playing: Watch this: 2019’s Top 5 tech turkeys 5:38 Social media may be helping connect people, but it’s also been twisted into a tool of propagandists aiming to upend our elections. It’s become home to serial harassers, who send out troll armies that threaten to rape and kill their perceived enemies. It’s become a hotbed of revenge porn and conspiracy theories. It’s the way mass murderers have livestreamed their terror.
But it wasn’t all Facebook, Twitter and YouTube screwing up. There was also Uber’s IPO, WeWork’s failures and MoviePass’ passing — among many, many fiascoes.
As we prepare for 2020, here’s a look back, in no particular order, at the crazy year that was 2019.
This isn’t just about what we think about 2019, by the way. Tell us about anything that caught your attention, and why, in the comments below.
Samsung Galaxy Fold mess
Angela Lang/CNET Samsung’s Galaxy Fold was one of the most anticipated phones of the year. It’s a tablet-size device that can fold in half, into a phone. It looked like the future. Reviewers loved the idea. Readers were clamoring to know more.
But just days before its launch, reviewers began taking to Twitter to express concerns about its screen. Some had accidentally destroyed the device while removing what they thought was a protective film for shipping.
Though Galaxy Fold preorders sold out the first day, the phone’s launch was pulled and no money was collected.
It was a shocking mistake by a company that only just in 2017 faced criticism over exploding batteries in its Galaxy Note 7 phones.
Samsung eventually fixed the problem, adding a protective cap to the folding hinge and changing the way the protective film was put on the phone’s screen. But by the time the gadget went back on sale in September, reviewers were focused on what was wrong with it.
CNET itself tested how many times the Galaxy Fold could… fold. Turns out the answer was 119,380 folds — short of the 200,000, or estimated five years of use, that Samsung said the phone should be able to withstand.
Facebook FTC fine is only $5 billion
Angela Lang/CNET Two years after we learned of Facebook’s malfeasance in allowing the profile information of as many as 87 million people to be leaked to British political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica, the US Federal Trade Commission finally decided on how to punish the social network. The answer was a $5 billion fine and an agreement that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and some of his lieutenants would sign statements promising they were protecting user privacy.
“Despite repeated promises to its billions of users worldwide that they could control how their personal information is shared, Facebook undermined consumers’ choices,” said FTC Chairman Joe Simons in a statement announcing the fine. “The relief is designed not only to punish future violations but, more importantly, to change Facebook’s entire privacy culture to decrease the likelihood of continued violations.”
Few were impressed with the outcome, though. Some noted that it’s a drop in the bucket for Facebook, which made $22 billion in profit last year.
Kara Swisher, editor-at-large for Recode, who’s interviewed Zuckerberg in public several times, wrote a New York Times column titled: “Put another zero on Facebook’s fine. Then we can talk.” The thrust of her argument was that such a small fine in the face of Facebook’s overwhelming wealth “won’t change anything.”
For his part, Zuckerberg said in a statement that the social network would make “major structural changes” to how it builds products and conducts business.
“We have a responsibility to protect people’s privacy,” Zuckerberg wrote. “We already work hard to live up to this responsibility, but now we’re going to set a completely new standard for our industry.”
Facebook’s Libra mess
Facebook Amid its myriad controversies, Zuckerberg decided it would be a good time to wade into more politics by announcing a new currency called Libra. It was designed, Facebook said, as an internet-friendly way to move and store money. Though Facebook would be one of the biggest companies involved, a consortium called the Libra Association would run it. And Facebook itself would have a subsidiary, called Calibra, to handle regulation.
Naturally, there was skepticism. This was Facebook, after all.
By the time Libra had its first meeting in October, a quarter of the original 28 founding members (including PayPal, eBay, Stripe, Visa and Mastercard) had dropped out.
As for Facebook, Zuckerberg got an earful during a hearing with Congress shortly after the departures.
“As I have examined Facebook’s various problems,” California Rep. Maxine Waters said to open one of the congressional hearings on Libra, “I have come to the conclusion that it would be beneficial for all if Facebook concentrates on addressing its many existing deficiencies and failures before proceeding any further on the Libra project.”
Apple FaceTime bug
James Martin/CNET Apple says a lot of things separate its products from those of competitors. There’s the slick design, the thoughtful software and the promise that everything will work together almost seamlessly.
Over the past couple of years, Apple has also made the case that its products are more respectful of our privacy. The company even put up a billboard during the annual CES show in Las Vegas in January saying “What happens on your iPhone, stays on your iPhone.”
Then, in late January, users discovered a bug in Apple’s FaceTime video chat software that let you remotely turn on anyone’s camera and microphone with little warning.
Apple immediately shut down its Group FaceTime service while it worked on a fix.
A couple of weeks later, Apple released a fix, and reiterated that it takes the security of its products “extremely seriously.”
Tesla’s Cybertruck launch hits a bump
When Tesla CEO Elon Musk got on stage, he had everything ready. He had a cheering crowd, an eye-catching new vehicle to show off and a demo to give. Two and a half minutes later, his plans were shattered.
It all began with the with the Cybertruck. Unlike Musk’s sedans, race cars and SUVs, the Cybertruck is aimed at — well, you get it.
To appeal to the truck-buying people who see ads like “Built Ford Tough,” Musk & Co. concocted a series of dramatic experiments to show how much tougher the Cybertruck is.
First, one of Musk’s lieutenants swung a sledgehammer at a normal truck door, leaving a dent. Next, he slammed it into the Cybertruck’s steel door, and the door was unblemished.
Then it was time to show off the “armor glass,” which Musk claimed was a “transparent metal-glass.” His team began by dropping a huge ball bearing on a normal pane of glass from several feet in the air. It immediately cracked. Next, the armor glass. The first few tries, it came away looking fine. The ball fell with a different-sounding thud, and as it was dropped several more times, anyone wincing and waiting for the glass to break had likely calmed down and was thinking “Musk planned this demo; it’ll go how he wants it to.”
That, dear reader, is where everyone was wrong.
After the stage-demo science experiments, a proud Musk asked his lieutenant to throw the ball bearing at the Cybertruck’s driver side window. A moment later, a web of cracks appeared where the ball bearing hit the glass. Musk, seemingly horrified, let out an expletive. For some reason, the lieutenant repeated his assault on the back passenger’s window, and broke it too.
Musk attempted to save face, saying, “it didn’t go through.”
For the rest of the presentation, the broken windows just sat there, behind Musk: the new symbol of the Cybertruck. And Tesla will go down in history for one of the biggest fails in stage demo history.
The credits roll on MoviePass
MoviePass Oh, MoviePass. You were always too good to be true. A $10 per month deal that let subscribers watch a movie a day, every day, in most theaters around the US was perhaps one of the worst business ideas ever. Especially considering it costs at least $3 more than that just to see one movie.
After a roller coaster year of drama in 2018, MoviePass cried “cut” and shut down Sept. 14.
If you’re looking for alternatives, CNET has you covered.
Apple’s butterfly keyboard gets mothballed
Butterflies are beautiful. Unfortunately, they make for troublesome keyboards.
In 2015, Apple began selling laptops with a new keyboard featuring a key design that was called the butterfly because of how it worked. (You can watch Apple’s video about that here.) But it turned out the butterfly keys were prone to collecting dust, and of failing to register presses, or of sensing too many. The problems were vexing enough that Apple created a replacement program for the entire line while also attempting to solve the problem. Alas, even Apple’s design wizards have their limits.
With the 2016 MacBook Pro, announced last month, Apple went back to the standard “scissor” design. Reviewers were elated. The keys, CNET’s Scott Stein said, feel “more natural, and have a more generous 1mm of ‘travel’ — so when you depress the key, you actually feel it move.”
For some pregnant workers, Amazon warehouses are a nightmare
Sarah Tew/CNET We’ve been hearing for years about grueling working conditions in Amazon’s warehouses, but in May, CNET reported that the e-commerce giant fired seven pregnant workers, some shortly after they informed managers of their condition.
The ones who stayed on the job quickly learned that Amazon’s grueling work environment was even more unforgiving to pregnant employees. For example, Amazon tracks when employees go to the bathroom, something pregnant ladies do quite often.
“I said, ‘I’m telling you this because I’m going to have to use the bathroom more,’ and [a manager] said, ‘It’s still against the rules,'” said Beverly Rosale, one of the women who struggled with work while pregnant. “We can’t control our bladders. If we have to go, we have to go.”
When Amazon fired Rosale, she said, the company told her she’d been taking too much time off, without acknowledging her pregnancy.
“It is absolutely not true that Amazon would fire any employee for being pregnant; we are an equal opportunity employer,” an Amazon spokeswoman said in a statement. “We work with our employees to accommodate their medical needs including pregnancy-related needs. We also support new parents by offering various maternity and parental leave benefits.”
Amazon earlier said it wasn’t able to discuss the specifics of Rosales’ lawsuit or other lawsuits. But in response to a request for comment for this story, the company said it “works hard to provide a safe, quality working environment for the more than 300,000 full and part-time employees working in our fulfillment and operations facilities across the US,” adding that it offers up to 20 weeks of maternal and paternal paid leave, a work flexibility program for new parents, and full medical, vision and dental insurance.
Ring’s cozy relationship with local police
Chris Monroe/CNET Over the past year, CNET also learned details about the relationship between Amazon’s Ring subsidiary and law enforcement. We learned Amazon was helping police build a surveillance network with Ring, and encouraging law enforcement to hawk its video doorbells without disclosing the relationship.
Amazon has also partnered with more than 500 cities to use Ring footage for law enforcement purposes, according to digital rights group Fight for the Future. In August, Ring released a map that lets you see if it’s working with your local police department.
The revelations culminated in a letter from five US senators, sent to Amazon, asking for details about how Ring handles video footage, what its testing and auditing practices are, and its plans in regard to facial recognition.
Ring said in a statement for this story that it doesn’t own or control users’ videos and people get to decide whether to share teen videos with the police.
5G isn’t here, but for AT&T, that wasn’t enough
Angela Lang/CNET Everyone in the tech industry is excited about 5G. This new wireless technology is supposed to revolutionize the way we communicate, offering faster and more-reliable internet for our phones, while also more easily connecting cars, medical equipment and all sorts of other gizmos.
It’s been slowly rolling out over the past year, getting turned on in cities like Chicago, Los Angeles and London.
But for AT&T, that wasn’t enough. While everyone waits for 5G, the wireless giant decided to rebrand its upgraded 4G technology as “5GE.”
Industry analysts, commentators and competitors cried foul, saying AT&T’s “deceptive” move would confuse everyone. Sprint even sued (the two eventually settled, though AT&T still uses the branding).
As for all of us, it turns out AT&T’s bet paid off. In May, about one in three Americans surveyed believed they had 5G. (They don’t.) Of them, 40% were iPhone owners, who definitely don’t have 5G iPhones, because Apple hasn’t yet started selling any.
The US government really doesn’t like Huawei
Corinne Reichert/CNET China-based Huawei is a popular communications technology maker known for creating reliable and cheap networking equipment and smartphones. But the scrutiny over Huawei has heightened over the last few years, in part after FBI Director Christopher Wray warned against buying Huawei and ZTE phones.
This led to retailers and government agencies banning Huawei’s technology. By this summer, President Donald Trump was calling Huawei a “national security threat,” though without evidence.
Huawei was put on a government watchlist that barred US businesses from working with the company, which meant Huawei might lose access to key services Gmail and the Google Play app store. The company unveiled its own operating system as a potential alternative.
Amid all this, Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou was arrested in Canada on Dec. 6, 2018, at the request of the US. She’s been imprisoned since, attempting to fight extradition to the United States.
Equifax settlement money goes from more than a hundred dollars to effectively zero
Graphic by Pixabay/Illustration by CNET Following Equifax’s monumental privacy lapse, which allowed hackers to steal personal information of more than 147 million people in 2017, the company announced a settlement requiring it to hand out as much as $700 million in fines and payments to victims.
As part of the settlement, Equifax said it would offer 10 years of free credit monitoring or $125 in cash. Well, so many people signed up for the money that the Federal Trade Commission had to warn that the pot of cash set aside might dwindle to the point that people who opted for the payment would get close to nothing.
Stay tuned to find out which way Equifax will screw this up next.
Congress still can’t hold decent hearings on tech
Getty Images Oh, Congress, will you ever understand technology? So far, the answer appears to be a resounding “no.” And thanks to that, we got several Capitol Hill hearings this year that went far off the rails.
Chief among them was a hearing on white supremacy, which devolved into partisan bickering.
Candace Owens, of the conservative college activist group Turning Point USA, argued to the committee that the hearing’s actual goal was “fear-mongering, power and control” on the part of the committee’s Democrats. One lawmaker responded by playing a video of Owens discussing Nazi leader Adolf Hitler’s nationalism.
By the end, many of the committee members had left, and all Twitter could talk about was Owens’ fiery rhetoric and the streams of racist and ugly comments left on the committee’s YouTube page.
A Senate hearing the next day was no better. Titled “Stifling Free Speech: Technological Censorship and the Public Discourse,” it became a series of circular debates. Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas argued, without evidence, that social media companies were broadly silencing people they politically disagreed with.
Facebook lets politicians lie in political ads
Angela Lang/CNET As the 2020 election campaign heats up, tech companies are scrambling to make sure they don’t get blamed for any problems that might arise.
Twitter, for example, said it would ban political ads. Google said it would restrict them. Facebook, meanwhile, said it would allow ads from politicians to say whatever they want.
“The reason for [this policy] is that we believe that in a democracy, it is important that people can see for themselves what politicians are saying,” Zuckerberg said during an October hearing on Capitol Hill. “Political speech is some of the most scrutinized speech already in the world.”
Many people disagreed with him, including Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren, of Massachusetts, who ran an ad with a lie about Zuckerberg supporting Trump, just to make her point.
“Facebook changed their ads policy to allow politicians to run ads with known lies — explicitly turning the platform into a disinformation-for-profit machine,” Warren tweeted. “This week, we decided to see just how far it goes.”
Zuckerberg still hasn’t backed down.
Conservatives vs. Silicon Valley
Graphic by Pixabay/Illustration by CNET Cruz isn’t the only person who worries about how conservatives are treated by the tech industry. It’s also a pet issue for Trump, who’s claimed — without evidence — that tech companies stifle his and other people’s social media posts.
The White House even set up a form in May, encouraging anyone who’s been affected by tech’s alleged “censorship” to speak out. The White House hasn’t released the results of the survey.
Still, that didn’t stop people from pushing on tech companies directly over conservative issues. They’ve argued the companies need to embrace “political diversity,” a twist on the tech industry’s efforts to bring more ethnic and gender diversity into its ranks.
One of the most dramatic moments this year was at Apple’s annual shareholder meeting, in March, during which some investors argued that the iPhone maker should have mandatory “ideological diversity” on its board.
“Diversity is not what someone looks like, it’s the sum of what they think,” activist Justin Danhof said at the meeting. Danhof, who’s general counsel for the National Center for Public Policy Research, added that the tech industry’s focus on increasing racial and gender diversity is “racism and sexism.”
The proposal was shot down, with more than 98 percent of voting shareholders casting ballots against it.
“We are open to people from all walks of life,” Apple CEO Tim Cook said in response, noting that this includes political points of view, religious beliefs and sexual orientation.
Apple’s software teams struggle
Apple With Apple, part of the appeal is the promise that its software and devices just work. Until they don’t.
In September, the company released iOS 13 and Catalina, the latest in its annual free updates for its iPhones, iPads and Mac computers. Every time this happens, there are bugs and various issues that take the company a few weeks to iron out with another software update.
But this time, those bugs persisted. In CNET’s review of Catalina, Jason Hiner wrote that unless you need the new features, “I’d recommend waiting for it until after Catalina’s first few incremental updates.”
“Catalina is fairly stable,” he added, “especially compared to the early releases of iOS 13 and iPadOS this year, but waiting for the first updates is always safe advice for operating system upgrades.”
The bugs were so problematic that Apple apparently is overhauling the way it releases software in the future, Bloomberg reported, to ensure that it’s more usable on release, and not just after updates to fix new bugs.
Uber’s IPO hits a speed bump
Angela Lang/CNET Before May, Uber seemed poised for an upswing. New CEO Dara Khosrowshahi helped turn around the company’s toxic work culture, and appeared to be settling fights with cities around the world. And don’t forget that Uber was one of the world’s largest startups, valued at potentially $120 billion.
Then we found out Uber was hemorrhaging cash. Like, more than $1 billion a quarter. It turned out Uber had never been profitable, and may never be. Uber said it needed to spend money to expand into new markets and to attract customers, but investors weren’t convinced. Uber ended its first day of trading on Friday, May 10, at $41 per share, nearly 9% down from the $45 preopen price.
The next day of trading, Monday, the stock fell even further, to $36 per share. “Like all periods of transition, there are ups and downs,” Khosrowshahi wrote in an email to employees, according to CNBC. “Obviously our stock did not trade as well as we had hoped post-IPO. Today is another tough day in the market, and I expect the same as it relates to our stock.”
It’s currently bouncing below $30 per share, valued at about $50 billion.
WeWork IPO does even worse
Alfred Ng/CNET Uber: Well, that was a rough IPO. WeWork: Hold my beer.
The company rose to stardom offering “co-working” space, a Silicon Valley-esque office environment you could rent, with beer on tap, Wi-Fi and comfy couches.
Initially, it was all the rage with aspiring entrepreneurs, but soon it was being used by big companies such as IBM, Facebook, Microsoft and UBS.
By 2019, WeWork was valued at $47 billion, based on investments including more than $10 billion from the firm SoftBank.
I’m sure you can see what’s coming next: The disaster began to unfold when WeWork filed its IPO paperwork publicly, disclosing a complex web of companies that made up “We,” and other shady business practices. On top of all that, it turned out the company’s CEO, Adam Neumann, had done questionable things like buying buildings WeWork was based out of and then renting space to the company. Or trademarking the company’s brand, and then licensing it for $5.9 million (he eventually returned that money, though).
Neumann “stepped down” from his job in September, but not before agreeing to a golden parachute of $1.7 billion. At that point, the company’s valuation was in shambles and it pulled its IPO plans.
WeWork’s other failures
WeWork Oh, you thought we were done with WeWork? Not quite. It also turned out the company had lax security on its Wi-Fi networks, leaving tenants’ sensitive documents, like bank account credentials and financial records, exposed.
If that wasn’t enough, the company in October alerted tenants that at least 1,600 of its phone booths in the US and Canada had “potential elevated levels of formaldehyde.”
All the major companies may’ve listened to your voice assistant chats
James Martin/CNET Voice assistants have had a bumpy run so far. Sure, they promise to play music, help you automate your smart home, and even tell you the occasional joke if you ask, but they don’t always understand you correctly.
That said, they’ve been getting better since their debut a decade ago. And recently, we learned how.
It turned out that Amazon, Apple, Google, Facebook and Microsoft were all sending anonymized recordings to a group of contractors to “grade” how well the voice assistants understood us and to help them learn when they got things wrong. Oh, and they didn’t really do a good job telling us they were doing this. Which is a problem when Alexa accidentally records you in intimate moments, or in the middle of an important meeting, or anything else really.
Throughout the year, each company admitted publicly that it had in fact been listening to a sampling of recordings, and promised to audit its processes to make sure our security was protected.
Apple went a step further, making its program opt-in — so you’re not a part of it unless you explicitly tell Apple you want to be.
Lyft reportedly has a sexual assault problem with its drivers
Angela Lang/CNET Typically seen as the friendlier and more politically conscious ride-hailing company, Lyft came under fire this year for allegedly not doing enough to protect riders from sexual assault, kidnapping and rape by its drivers. Hundreds of women have reported incidents, according to lawyers representing victims, and at least 34 people have either filed or joined lawsuits against the company.
Uber reportedly has as many accusations, but lawyers said it has a better record of working with victims. Lyft allegedly tends to stonewall victims — ignoring, dismissing or downplaying their assertions. Neither company has released data on how many assaults are linked to their drivers, but both have said they intend to do so at some point.
“Not a day goes by when we aren’t thinking about the safety of our platform,” a Lyft spokeswoman said.
Bedbugs are reportedly infiltrating Airbnb rentals
Robert Rodriguez/CNET Hundreds of Airbnb hosts and guests have reported run-ins with bedbugs — the small pests that tend to take blood meals from unsuspecting victims as they sleep. Though hotels, motels and other hospitality locales have also experienced issues with the critters, Airbnb has been criticized for reportedly not having a systematic procedure in place for handling outbreaks.
Travelers have reported tales of waking up in rentals covered in red, itchy welts, or inspecting mattresses to find hundreds of the creepy-crawly bugs. In most cases, Airbnb reportedly won’t relocate people to a new rental because they’re too much of a “risk.” Instead the company allegedly tells them to book a hotel.
“We take bedbug complaints as seriously as we would any safety or cleanliness complaint,” an Airbnb spokesman said.
Because Airbnb’s business model is built on millions of independent hosts renting out their homes, the company doesn’t have a lot of control over what those hosts do or don’t do to keep house. And hosts have said Airbnb doesn’t warn them that bedbugs can be an issue with travelers or give them tips to prevent infestations.
Google employees accuse company of retaliation
Stephen Shankland/CNET Last year, Google employees made history with their worldwide walkout, spurred by sexual harassment allegations at the company. But soon after, employees alleged they were being unfairly targeted by management for their organizing efforts.
Two walkout organizers, Claire Stapleton and Meredith Whittaker, said their roles were minimized. Stapleton said she was asked to go on medical leave even though she wasn’t sick. In May, six months after the walkout, employees held a sit-in to protest a “culture of retaliation.” Both Stapleton and Whittaker quit Google this year.
Employees accused Google of retaliation again at another rally in November, after the company put two employees on administrative leave for accessing documents and calendar information that Google says was beyond the scope of their jobs. Activists at the company, though, said the move was punishment for speaking out against Google. Both employees had been involved in many employee protests, including a petition urging the company not to bid on contracts to work with border agencies, as well as a campaign against promoting harassment on YouTube.
Amazon’s HQ2 flops in New York
Ben Fox Rubin/CNET Amazon’s giant HQ2 project once was considered a national prize. In 2017, the e-commerce giant announced plans for a second headquarters based outside Seattle. But the where was up to us. Governments around the country were invited to compete, sending in applications with tax incentives, development plans and other reasons Amazon should choose their locale for its second home.
The winner would get 50,000 workers and $5 billion in expenditures.
About a year later, Amazon announced it would split the project in two, between Queens, New York, and Crystal City, Virginia, just outside Washington, DC. Even before the official announcement, opposition to the New York campus kicked off. Several local progressive politicians, buoyed by the recent election of democratic socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to Congress, criticized the project. Amazon’s $3 billion incentives package was derided as corporate welfare, especially because of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ position as the world’s richest person.
Amazon’s anti-union posture in a heavily union city was another major problem. The addition of so many Amazon workers was expected to burden an already strained infrastructure. The company’s plan for a helipad was mocked.
By the beginning of 2019, Amazon had had enough. It pulled the project in New York.
The drama over the whole affair is expected to cause more cities to rethink their lavish incentive packages to lure businesses. But it may also encourage other companies to attempt to copy Amazon’s approach.
Bezos’ National Enquirer blackmail brouhaha
James Martin/CNET Around the same time Amazon canceled its New York plans, Bezos announced he’d been blackmailed by “top people” at the National Enquirer.
The gossip magazine, whose owner has close ties to President Trump, said the paper threatened to publish nude photos of him unless he ended an investigation into how the publication had obtained and then published text messages between him and his girlfriend.
Instead, Bezos published the email exchanges he’d had with the publication, in an effort to expose the plot against him.
“Rather than capitulate to extortion and blackmail, I’ve decided to publish exactly what they sent me, despite the personal cost and embarrassment they threaten,” Bezos said in the post, which includes emails allegedly from National Enquirer publisher American Media Inc.
This was particularly interesting not just because Bezos’ dirty laundry was about to be aired, but also because he’s the owner of the Washington Post, a newspaper Trump frequently criticizes (And calls it the “Amazon Washington Post,” even though it’s Bezos himself who owns the paper, not Amazon.)
AMI, meanwhile, had admitted just two months prior to “working in concert” with the Trump campaign to pay off a women ahead of the 2016 election to quash her stories of having an affair with Trump.
The case is still ongoing.
EA’s Anthem disappoints
Electronic Arts Electronic Arts seemed to have a megahit on its hands when it announced Anthem in 2017. The game followed a group of people in mechanical “javelin” suits (like Iron Man) as they traveled around the world getting rid of dangerous animals, fighting enemies and protecting one of the last human colonies on an alien planet.
The hype followed for years until 2019’s February release, during which things turned decidedly worse. At first reviewers, like CNET sister site GameSpot, found technical glitches, inconsistently fun gameplay and a poor story. “Anthem has good ideas, but it struggles significantly with the execution,” GameSpot’s Kallie Plagge wrote after 27 hours playing the game. “You never quite shake that feeling of disappointment — of knowing, throughout the good parts of Anthem, that you’ll inevitably come crashing back down.”
But the community was already angry. EA staggered the game’s release, giving access at first to its highest paying subscription customers.
The game ultimately earned a Metacritic score of 59 (“mixed”) out of 100. Only 5 of the 76 critics Metacritic tracked gave it a positive score.
Two months later, Kotaku published a lengthy article detailing Anthem’s troubled development. At the E3 video game conference in June, EA said it “learned a lot” from Anthem’s release, but the company didn’t apologize to fans.
At this point, EA is reportedly — again, from Kotaku — in the midst of revamping the game. We’ll see if the second time’s a charm.
Activision Blizzard steps in it with China
Robert Rodriguez/CNET On Oct. 5, an esports star, Blitzchung, appeared in an interview at a video game tournament wearing a gas mask and ski goggles, and said “liberate Hong Kong! Revolution of our age!”
Blitzchung was expressing solidarity with pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong, who’d been demonstrating since March over Beijing’s involvement with the local government.
Blizzard acted swiftly, announcing that Blitzchung was banned from competition for 12 months and stripped of his winnings. The two broadcasters interviewing him, who apparently knew of his plans, were also fired.
The backlash was immediate and intense. Some fans argued Blizzard was siding with the Chinese government because gamers in that country bring in millions of dollars a year for the company. Even some Blizzard employees were upset, covering up plaques on the company’s campus that said “Think Globally” and “Every Voice Matters.”
Blizzard denied that the player ban had anything to do with China, but it reduced Blitzchung’s ban to six months and gave him back his winnings.
That didn’t stop people from traveling to Blizzard’s annual Blizzcon fan event in Anaheim, Calif. to protest. At the opening ceremonies, on Nov. 1, company president J. Allen Brack apologized for how the controversy was handled. However, many people criticized the apology for not specifying the actions Blizzard took and for not mentioning the company’s ties with China.
Game of Thrones’ final episode
Livestreaming comes under scrutiny after New Zealand shootings
Graphic by Pixabay/Illustration by CNET One of the most horrifying things about the shooting in New Zealand was that the killer broadcast his massacre on live video over Facebook.
Fewer than 200 people saw the stream live, and the social network didn’t even know about the video until 12 minutes after it ended. But during that time, the video was downloaded and reshared across the internet.
In the first 24 hours after the event, Facebook purged 1.5 million uploads of the video, 80 percent of which were blocked before going live on the social network.
Facebook wasn’t alone struggling against people constantly attempting to reupload the video, but it did bear the responsibility of being the place the video was created.
8Chan becomes home to shooter manifestos and livestreams
CNET 8Chan, a website that says it’s devoted to unrestrained and anonymous free expression, was already known as a hotbed of conspiracy theories and harassment.
But the website came under new scrutiny when a terrorist in New Zealand published his manifesto and a link to a livestream from his helmet camera as he killed 51 people on a rampage at two mosques in the town of Christchurch.
Following the assault, more attackers posted on the site before they went on similar rampages. 8Chan became an unofficial destination for these posts, where fans would then encourage the killers.
8Chan went offline in August, following a mass shooting in El Paso, Texas, whose perpetrator was tied to a manifesto published on 8Chan. The site’s owner, Jim Watkins, was subpoenaed and appeared privately before the US House Committee on Homeland Security in September and said he’d keep the site offline voluntarily until tools were developed to counter illegal content.
On Oct. 6, the 8Chan Twitter account uploaded a video featuring a new name for the site: 8kun. The new site officially went live Nov. 2. Watkins uploaded a video on the same day saying the site was experiencing heavy traffic. On Nov. 6, domain registrar Tucows removed the site, saying it breached the company’s service agreement. 8kun is still offline.
Vaping turns deadly
Truthinitiative.org Juul was a huge success, until it wasn’t.
The vaping company, which sold vaping e-cigarettes that are sleek and look almost like a USB-drive. It worked by converting liquid nicotine into vapor, and is battery-operated.
The company marketed itself as helping “improve the lives of 1 billion adult smokers by eliminating cigarettes.” But it was quickly accused of targeting teenagers with ads, effectively creating a new class of addicted customers.
Juul was surging in popularity, despite efforts to stop it. Even San Francisco banned the sale of e-cigarettes in June. And the next month, Facebook and Instagram began restricting e-cigarette ads.
Everything changed in August, when Illinois reported that a patient had died after vaping. Soon, reports of respiratory illnesses in e-cigarette smokers were rising, and more people started to die.
Though Juul wasn’t the only e-cigarette maker, the Food and Drug Administration called the company out for claiming its products were safer than those from other companies.
By mid November, 42 people had died, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And though President Trump initially said he’d consider a ban on flavored vaping, he reversed those plans.
Juul meanwhile said earlier this month it plans to lay off 650 employees, or about 16% of its workforce, as part of an effort to cut costs amid increased regulatory pressure.
What a year. Want to learn more about tech controversies? Head over to our Decade in Review series, where we cover all the biggest scandals of the 2010s. There were so many scandals, we split them into three parts. Part 1 focused on, among other things, Apple Maps, Netflix’s price hikes and Edward Snowden’s revelations about the National Security Agency. Part 2 covered GamerGate, Theranos and Samsung’s Galaxy Note 7 fires. And part 3 talked about Uber’s fall from grace, the Equifax hack and #MeToo in Silicon Valley.
CNET’s Dara Kerr, Richard Nieva, Eli Blumenthal and Michael Sorrentino contributed to this report.
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