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Facebook's Cambridge Analytica scandal and GDPR

What else could we go with for our top story of the year (so far) than Facebook's spiraling Cambridge Analytica data breach. Well, the company didn't consider it a breach until CEO Mark Zuckerberg called it one in his congressional testimony. There's so much to unpack here: the loss of the personal data of 87 million people, increased scrutiny on the practice of taking not just your data but the data from friends in your network, questions over how much value Facebook places on the security of that information.

Though the General Data Protection Regulation, the EU's new, stricter rule governing how online companies can collect your data, is technically a separate item, it and Facebook were so strongly linked by both topic and timing that they had to share a spot at the top of this list. 

Published:Caption:Photo:James Martin/CNET
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Net neutrality laws are no more

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai set out to roll back the laws protecting the open internet, and he accomplished just that in June. But the story isn't over yet -- the move prompted states to enact their own net neutrality laws, and the decision will likely face legal challenges in the months ahead. 

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Fortnite takes over everything

Last year's PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds (or PUBG) popularized the battle royale style of game play, but Fortnite has taken it and absolutely dominated our lives. It helps that this game is on every console, as well as PCs and the iPhone. If Drake is playing Fortnite on Twitch, you know this is a thing.

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Merger mania still alive

What a wonderful time to go shopping -- if you're a multibillion dollar corporation. AT&T won its case against the Justice Department to complete its $85 billion acquisition of Time Warner. Walt Disney is trying to secure its purchase of Fox's entertainment assets, in spite of Comcast's best efforts to steal them away. And T-Mobile and Sprint are finally getting together. 

Published:Caption:Photo:James Martin/CNET
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Yanny vs. Laurel

What did you hear? This sound illusion -- a trick in the frequency and how people respond differently to sounds -- had us replaying and replaying the audio clip as we lightheartedly debated with our friends and family. Go #teamlaurel.

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Avengers, Deadpool prove comic book movies still rule

Avengers: Infinity War wasn't just a movie; it was a cultural touchstone that seemingly everyone was talking about. All that chatter about comic book movie fatigue went out the window after Avengers hit, followed by the strong follow-up Deadpool 2. But that ending to Infinity War has us clamoring for the sequel ASAP.

Published:Caption:Photo:Marvel Studios/Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
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Trump shockingly helps Chinese company ZTE

ZTE seemed destined for oblivion. A ban by the US Commerce Department against US companies doing business with ZTE meant the Chinese firm losing access to core components from the likes of Qualcomm, and critical parts of Google's Android. But President Donald Trump opted to save the company, pushing the Commerce Department to come to a settlement, despite the protests of those in Congress. It's a surprising contrast considering Trump's platform of saving American jobs first. 

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Bitcoin's dramatic fall

Who didn't see this coming? Bitcoin, and cryptocurrency in general, was white hot at the end of 2017, peaking at $20,000 in December. But common sense and a realization that well, you can't really use Bitcoin in a lot of places, brought its valuation down to earth. It's sitting at $5,900, a far cry from just a few months ago.

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Apple and Samsung's epic legal battle is over

It was the high-profile legal fight no one thought would end. The two tech titans have been squaring off in courtrooms for the past seven years over claims of stolen tech. It's a struggle that went all the way up to the Supreme Court -- which somehow didn't fully resolve things. Fortunately, Apple and Samsung settled out of court and everyone can move on. 

Published:Caption:Photo:James Martin/CNET
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Rise of copycat notch phones

The notch atop the iPhone X was controversial. Many derided it as ugly and a design misfire. Yet this year has seen a flood of copycats, including the LG G7, the OnePlus 6, the Xiaomi Mi 8 and the Asus Zenfone 5. Samsung, to its credit, stuck to its Infinity Display concept and shied away from the notch. But you can't deny Apple accidentally kicked off a new phone trend.

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Elon Musk's Tesla drama

Musk has been in a pressure cooker throughout 2018, arguably one of his own design. Tesla has struggled to produce its Model 3 sedans in the volumes he promised, let alone with acceptable quality and for a profit. The Model 3 and Tesla as a whole still hold huge promise, but the company's window of opportunity appears to be closing. Lately, the brilliant, enigmatic Musk seems to be unraveling under the pressure -- particularly on social media, where he's appeared increasingly erratic and distracted. Fans, critics and investors are all taking notice.

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Huawei gets the cold shoulder

This was supposed to be Huawei's big year in the US. Reports had AT&T and Verizon finally supporting the Chinese phone maker in a big way. But those persistent security concerns over Huawei's connections to the Chinese government forced both carriers to reverse course, with Best Buy also cutting its ties. That's despite broad adoption of Huawei phones overseas.

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Trump blocks Qualcomm-Broadcom deal

President Donald Trump has been busy in the tech world. He stepped in to personally kill Broadcom's attempt to buy Qualcomm, a deal Qualcomm had been trying to get out of. The deal would've combined the two chip giants, but Trump was more concerned about what this might mean for the US' leadership position in 5G. 

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Say hello to Google's Duplex AI

Google wowed us at its I/O developer conference with Duplex's ability to sound so human that it could fool people on the other side of a phone line. But that wow factor soon turned into a creep factor, and Google quickly backtracked and said it would disclose upfront that the voice was part of Google Assistant. The company has since opened up to a limited public test with a few specific businesses. 

Published:Caption:Photo:James Martin/CNET
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Tech companies speak out about immigration

Just as President Donald Trump's ban on certain Muslim countries spurred major tech players to speak out last year, this year's policy of separating undocumented immigrant children from their parents caused the industry to once again weigh in. It's another sign of how tech companies are using their heft to influence social issues.

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Waymo v. Uber ends quickly

Call this the anti-Apple vs. Samsung. Instead of a years-long, protracted battle that ends up in multiple courthouses, Waymo (a unit of Alphabet) and Uber opted to settle, with Waymo taking a $245 million stake in the ride-hailing service over claims of stolen self-driving car tech. It was a sudden -- and anticlimactic -- end to what was shaping up to be another fight between tech heavyweights. 

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Uber's fatal self-driving crash

A software issue appeared to be the cause behind the fatal accident that occurred when one of Uber's self-driving cars struck a pedestrian. Uber halted its project to investigate, but the company may be looking to restart things later this year. 

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IBM's AI defeated a human in a debate and we're all doomed

Forget chess or go, IBM's artificial intelligence is taking on humans in the more nuanced battle of words. Its Project Debater won one out of the two debates it participated in. 

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Supreme Court weighs in on location data

The Supreme Court has been busy this year. In a win for privacy, it ruled that law enforcement must obtain a warrant if it wants access to your past location data. The authorities were previously able to obtain the information from a third party holding that data: the wireless carriers. 

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Supreme Court decision means higher online sales prices

Get ready for more online taxes. The Supreme Court rule that states could force retailers to collect and send state sales taxes. The ruling reverses a 1992 ruling and could mean higher online prices for you.

Published:Caption:Photo:Geoff Livingston/Getty Images
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5G is enjoying peak hype

Excitement for 5G continues to grow, as does the rhetoric around next-generation wireless technology. The networks are starting to get rolled out this year, with most launching service in 2019. This would rank higher if it were fueled with anything more than promises and hype. 

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Intel CEO steps down

Intel's Brian Krzanich stunned the industry, stepping down as CEO after the company's board discovered a consensual relationship with an employee. 

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The passing of Stephen Hawking

A sad day for science. The famed physicist and author was 76.

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SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket makes history

In early February, Elon Musk's rocket company sent its most powerful system yet on its way to space, and into history. The liftoff of Falcon Heavy, the most powerful rocket launched from US soil since the Saturn V from NASA's Apollo days, marked another step forward for Musk and his plans to get Earthlings deeper into space. 

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A $1 Loop ride in Los Angeles

Elon Musk made headlines when talking about his plans to build an underground Loop system in Los Angeles -- and to charge only a buck a ride.

Published:Caption:Photo:The Boring Company
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San Francisco scooter drama

Leave it to San Francisco to spark a battle over electric scooter startups. The fight has pitted multiple companies one another, as well as the citizens of the city against all of them. The resulting chaos and backlash would make for an unbelievable tale -- if it wasn't all true. 

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Yet another massive security breach

These happen so often they barely warrant a place on this list. But one breach worth highlighting happened in April, and affected Delta, Sears, Kmart and Best Buy. You should just assume your info is out there. 

Published:Caption:Photo:James Martin/CNET
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Solo a disappointment

Comic book movies are going strong, but Star Wars fatigue is in. Solo's opening box office take was significantly lower than those of earlier Star Wars films, including Rogue One, and the reaction was "meh." 

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Mars dust cloud

In June, NASA spotted a continent-size dust storm on Mars that blocked enough sun to effectively turn day into night on the red planet. It eventually grew to cover the entire planet. NASA called it one of the most intense Martian dust storms ever observed. While the storm crippled one Mars rover, another managed to snap a selfie.  

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