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Apple Maps, Netflix price hike, Edward Snowden: Tech scandals 2010-13

Privacy kinks, corporate malfeasance and tech bros -- the first years of the decade faced no shortage of outrages and flops.

This story is part of The 2010s: A Decade in Review, a series on the memes, people, products, movies and so much more that have influenced the 2010s.

The past decade has seen both the best and worst for the tech industry. It's when Amazon, Apple and Facebook became some of the largest companies in the world. It's when Twitter became a power center of politics, media and finance. And it's when the tech industry screwed it all up and got everyone mad.

decade-in-review-bug

Yup, this is a list of the biggest tech scandals of the 2010s. Not all of them, mind you, because I have to get home to my children at some point. But they are definitely the ones you remember, probably some of the ones you don't, a few that'll make you groan and at least one that'll make you head-desk. I promise.

From the iPhone's antennagate to Facebook's Cambridge Analytica mess. From Uber's toxic tech-bro culture to Amazon's mistreatment of warehouse employees. All the big companies have something to offer this collection of failures, screw-ups and misadventures. 

Over three days, we're resurfacing the industry's top scandals. Part 2 will look at, among other things, GamerGate, Theranos and the Reddit revolt between 2014 and 2016. Part 3 will bring us from 2017 to the present, catching up on Facebook's fall from grace, sexism at Uber and PewDiePie's drama on YouTube

But we also want to hear from you. Let us know which scandal you think was the worst and why.

Apple's iPad name gets laughed at

2010

Apple

The product that started the decade gave us a controversy that was more of a chuckle-inducer. When Apple announced its tablet in January, it got a name: iPad. And Twitter couldn't stop laughing about how that sounded like a feminine hygiene product

Get it? 

Oh, and it didn't matter, because a lot of people bought it. Moving on.

The great Apple iPhone leak

2010

James Martin/CNET

The decade started with a bang, and one of the most dramatic Apple leaks ever. The company, known for its outrageous secrecy, lost control of a prototype for its iPhone 4, which was either found at or stolen from a bar (depending on whose story you believe) and sold to Gawker Media's tech blog Gizmodo. 

The story doesn't end there, though. While the photos touched off a firestorm of media coverage, with everyone oohing and ahhhing the phone's new design, Apple was not happy. The iPhone maker reported the phone stolen, and police eventually raided the home of one of Gizmodo's editors.

Ultimately, the phone was revealed in June. Apple CEO Steve Jobs quipped "Stop me if you've already seen this" before showing off the new device, getting a few laughs. Then he moved on: "The precision with which this is made is beyond any consumer product we've ever seen."

Unfortunately for Apple, the drama didn't end there. Shortly after the phone's release, people realized that gripping it a certain way caused "attenuation" -- essentially interference -- creating a firestorm of coverage that was eventually called "antennagate."

CNET Editor-in-Chief Connie Guglielmo, at the time working for Bloomberg, wrote that Jobs knew of the antenna issue before release, and now amid the firestorm would need a couple months to retool manufacturing to resolve the issue. In the meantime, Apple offered free cases to disappointed customers

But all anyone could remember was an email reply Jobs sent to a frustrated customer, telling that person to hold the phone a different way.

HP's Mark Hurd is canned

2010

HP

Mark Hurd, then CEO of Hewlett-Packard, was unceremoniously fired by its board of directors because of his involvement with Jodie Fisher, one of the company's contractors. The company said an investigation revealed that its sexual harassment policy hadn't been violated, though that came after Hurd settled a claim from Fisher.

On his way out, Hurd was given a severance package worth up to $40 million and then was hired to become president of HP's archrival, Oracle. Hurd died in late 2019.

The Microsoft Kin

2010

James Martin/CNET

Microsoft's Kin may be one of the shortest-lived gadgets ever, lasting less than two months on store shelves before being discontinued. The phone was designed to be a light, smartphone-like device for the younger set, and its innovative ideas -- like a web-backup timeline of everything you do on the phone -- was nifty. But critics and consumers panned its pricey data plan. 

Still, Microsoft made a big marketing push with ads and cameos of the Kin in TV shows. But it was a bust.

The SOPA and PIPA mess

2011

Graphic by James Martin

There are few times the tech industry has risen up in one voice to protest something, which is why the effort to defeat the Stop Online Piracy Act and Protect IP Act were such a big deal.

The bills, introduced by Texas' Lamar Smith in the House of Representatives and Vermont's Patrick Leahy in the Senate, were designed to allow the US government and copyright holders to stop copyright piracy by getting a court order to effectively cut people from being able to access a site. This, critics said, could cause mass censorship.

Mozilla, maker of the Firefox web browser, called it "Internet Blacklist Legislation." So did Wikimedia (as in, Wikipedia). Even the European Parliament adopted an anti-SOPA resolution.

Ultimately, in 2012, some of the largest sites in the world, including Google, Wikipedia and Reddit, organized a day-long protest in which they blacked out their home pages, with explanations that the law could knock them offline if abused. That was enough to eventually kill the legislation.

Netflix says goodbye to DVDs too soon

2011

Netflix

Netflix had it all: A good relationship with customers, love from Wall Street and a promising lead on the streaming video service it started in 2007. 

Then in July of 2011, Netflix made a colossal screw-up. It attempted to hike prices by more than half, to $16 per month from $10. 

Netflix didn't help itself when announcing the change, either, saying it would split itself in two. The streaming company would be called Netflix and the DVD-by-mail company would be called Qwikster. 

People didn't respond well. And then things got worse when The New York Times published an interview in which Netflix CEO Reed Hastings said he'd discussed the split with friends while soaking in a hot tub. Talk about looking out of touch with customers.

When all was said and done, 800,000 subscribers fled the service in protest and the stock price fell 77% in four months. Hastings went from Fortune magazine's Businessperson of the Year to the target of Saturday Night Live satire.

Don't cry too hard for him, though. After giving up on the Qwikster thing, and apologizing for the rate hike, Netflix went on to become the entertainment behemoth we know today.

Sony gets pwned

2011

LulzSec

It started in April 2011, when Sony shut down its PlayStation Network online service after discovering what would become one of the biggest breaches ever. In the end, intruders accessed the information of 77 million people after breaking into the PlayStation Network and other services. 

And it didn't stop there. In June, Sony was hit again, only this time the information of thousands of people was stolen from its movie-making division.

The hackers, who went by the name LulzSec (slang for laughing at our security), then went on to attack other game makers like Bethesda Game Studios, government websites, email services and AT&T over that summer.

Palm's unceremonious end

2011

CNET

Apple's iPhone may have changed the way we look at phones, but Palm is the company that made the idea of a pocketable device popular.

The Palm Pilot, the offshoot Handspring Visor, and ultimately the Palm Treo smartphone were leaders of the burgeoning "personal digital assistant" (PDA) world. Palm's technology was so popular, the company licensed it to Sony and other companies to create their own versions of Palm devices.

In 2009, Palm announced WebOS, new software designed to help it compete with Apple's iPhone and the growing list of devices powered by Google's Android software. Reviewers loved the slick look, but it ultimately struggled to woo consumers.

HP, before Mark Hurd was fired, bought Palm for $1.2 billion and attempted to relaunch the phones and a tablet. But the effort failed, and Palm came to an unceremonious end.

If you're wondering where Palm's well-regarded WebOS went, it's now powering LG's TVs.

The rise and fall of Google Plus

2011

Screenshot by Ed Rhee/CNET

It was 2011, just a year before Facebook's IPO, and CEO Mark Zuckerberg was on top of the world. Developers were flocking to work for him, and one of its sales reps was even on the hit new ABC show The Bachelor. 

Google, worried about missing a major new wave on the internet, announced its own social network in 2011, called Google+. It was met with great fanfare, with the tech industry's biggest names itching to get on and give it a whirl. 

In an effort to draw existing Google users into the fold, the tentacles of Google+ extended into everything from Gmail and Google Photos to search results and Android. Still, it all fizzled, and by 2012 The Wall Street Journal declared it a virtual ghost town.  

And yet it continued for seven more years, until 2019, when Google unveiled plans to shut the social network down because of a vulnerability that exposed the data of a half million people. Any remaining non-ghosts had until Aug. 19, 2019, to decamp.

Apple's iPhone manufacturing and Mike Daisey's imagination

2012

Ursa Waz

Mike Daisey, a public speaker and actor, was a complicated figure for the tech industry in 2012. On one hand, he forced us to pay attention to working conditions at the sprawling contract manufacturing plants in China. On the other hand, it turned out he'd made stuff up, offering heartbreaking stories of suffering he didn't actually see.

Daisey was already known for his theater shows when he started a run of the monologue The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs in 2010. The show sought to discuss exploitation of Chinese workers, based on Daisey's travels to meet with them and hear their stories. 

The monologue became even more popular when it was featured on the hit NPR radio program This American Life.

But it all fell apart when American Public Media's Marketplace interviewed Daisey's translator, who said the people and experiences described simply weren't true. Daisy went back on This American Life to discuss the discrepancies, leading to one of the show's most listened-to episodes ever.

What was perhaps most sad was that there was real reporting being done about working conditions in Chinese factories. 

Apple's Maps takes a wrong turn out of the gate

2012

James Martin/CNET

Apple makes products that just work... unless they don't.

Apple completely revamped its mapping software to replace Google's maps in 2012 after a falling-out between the two tech giants. 

But it turned out that replacing a complicated mapping service that's taken years to develop isn't the easiest thing to do, even for Apple. Sure, the new Apple Maps looked great, and many reviewers loved it.

But soon after it was released, customers found it was filled with errors. Like, a lot of errors. Like putting the label for a bridge in the wrong place type of errors. (To be fair, Google Maps struggled in its early days too.) Worse, developers warned Apple about the defects before release.

To his credit, Apple CEO Tim Cook admitted the software "fell short" and promised it would be fixed. 

Apple meets the tax man

2013

CBS Interactive

In 2013, The New York Times was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for its series on Apple, writing about its patent strategy, overseas manufacturing practices, app store and retail stores. The Times also discussed Apple's tax strategy, and the seeming lengths the tech giant went to in efforts to "sidestep" billions of dollars in global taxes.

The outrage over Apple's tax practices eventually led to a congressional hearing in May 2013, during which Cook hit back, saying the company was "the largest corporate income tax payer in America." Apple, he said, pays "the taxes it owes. Every single dollar."

Though Cook did spar with some senators over the issue, he also raised issues of repatriating overseas profits. Years later, President Donald Trump would change the tax code to lower the taxes on cash brought home from overseas.

Tesla fires

2013

Screenshot by Wayne Cunningham/CNET

Tesla suffered a rash of bad publicity when several Model S cars caught fire, raising concerns about the safety of electric cars in general, and Tesla in particular.  

Tesla CEO Elon Musk downplayed the incidents and reiterated assertions that the Model S was the safest car in America. One driver with a burned-out Model S even said he would buy one again.

The tale of Edward Snowden

2013

Screengrab via The Guardian

In June, leaks emerged that implicated the National Security Agency and its PRISM program, which tapped into tech and telecom companies to obtain phone call records, electronic documents and other personal data.

The leaks touched off a heated debate over the balance between the government's national security priorities and individual civil liberties, and continues to be a massive black eye for the NSA and the broader US government. 

A face for the incident emerged in Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor who was revealed as the source of the leaks. On his way to seek refuge in Ecuador, Snowden ended up flying to Moscow, sparking fears he could feed state secrets to the US' biggest "frenemy," Russia. That threat never really materialized, and he was granted a one-year asylum. He still lives in Russia, and the US is still seeking his extradition. 

Not helping the situation, leaks said the NSA also spied on leaders and citizens of several other countries, including other members of the "Five Eyes" intelligence alliance -- the UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand.

BlackBerry's fall

2013

Sarah Tew/CNET

Poor BlackBerry. The once innovative Canadian tech giant -- whose namesake devices were the business world's iPhone before there was an iPhone -- fell fast a few short years after Apple's phone debut. 

The biggest screw-up came in 2013, when CEO Thorsten Heins made a bet-the-company move to launch the all-touchscreen BlackBerry Z10, which would show off new the new BlackBerry 10 software designed to compete with Android and iOS.

BlackBerry took a staggering $934 million charge to write off its inventory of unsold Z10s. 

Heins was replaced with John Chen, who cleared house, but it ultimately wasn't enough to save the company. BlackBerry's name has since been licensed to Chinese tech giant TCL.

Phew! Stay tuned for Part 2, covering scandals from 2014 to 2016, coming Tuesday. In the meantime, if you can't wait for more 2010s nostalgia, head over to our Decade In Review page to relive more of the news you may have forgotten.