CNET's Tech Turkeys of 2013 (pictures)

A compilation of the worst, most embarrassing gaffes in technology this year. Gobble gobble.

Roger Cheng
Roger Cheng (he/him/his) was the executive editor in charge of CNET News, managing everything from daily breaking news to in-depth investigative packages. Prior to this, he was on the telecommunications beat and wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal for nearly a decade and got his start writing and laying out pages at a local paper in Southern California. He's a devoted Trojan alum and thinks sleep is the perfect -- if unattainable -- hobby for a parent.
Roger Cheng
1 of 11 Maxis/EA

Honorable mention: SimCity's botched launch

Here are CNET's Tech Turkeys of 2013: A memorable list of gaffes and flops in technology this year.

Honorable mention: SimCity's botched launch.

Hell hath no fury like a gamer scorned. The debut of the new SimCity was supposed to usher in a vastly improved and reimagined version of the storied city-builder franchise. Unfortunately, the decision by Electronics Arts to maintain an always-on Internet connection -- which the company argued was critical for the social and resource elements of the game -- bogged down its servers, degrading the experience or preventing players from logging on at all.

The launch was an unmitigated disaster, and it stoked the flames of hatred for the always-connected policy (more on that in a moment) and EA (voted the worst company in America for the second year in a row).

After EA assured fans it had fixed it all, the company ran into the exact same problem with the launch of the Mac-version of SimCity in August.

It's a shame. The game isn't half bad.

2 of 11 Yahoo

10. Yahoo goes Yahoo over mail

10. Yahoo goes Yahoo over mail

Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer has seemingly been a force for good at the floundering -- search? entertainment? shopping? -- company. Mayer has raised Yahoo's profile, for sure, and brought some excitement to the joint. Welcome Katie Couric!

But, as the cliche goes, the jury is out on many fronts. And Mayer's brief tenure hasn't been without its gaffes. One of her efforts to remake the company's image was to redo Yahoo Mail, often considered the "poor man's version of Gmail." It's not a huge surprise that Mayer, an ex-Googler, was looking for a streamlined, modern version of Yahoo Mail. But the reaction likely caught her off guard.

It also doesn't help that only 25 percent of the Yahoo employees use Yahoo Mail.

One of Mayer's other big, attention-getting moves: banning employees from working from home. Her intentions were fine -- make people accountable, create team spirit -- but the whole thing would have gone over a lot better had Yahoo not just built a nursery for Mayer's baby right by her office.

3 of 11 Sarah Tew/CNET

9. Xbox One's controversial policy switcheroo

9. Xbox One's controversial policy switcheroo

If you thought the furor over an always-online connection for a single game was bad, just imagine the gaming community's reaction when Microsoft said its next-generation console, the Xbox One, would have a similar policy.

Suffice it to say, gamers were not happy, and the slew of restrictions on the Xbox One, which required an Internet connection, employed a digital rights management system on discs, and restricted users from lending games to their friends, cut into the console's early buzz.

It didn't help that hours later, Sony turned the knife further by trumpeting the fact that it required no online connection, and that gamers could use, lend out, or sell discs as they pleased -- all to standing ovation. Somewhere in Redmond, Wash., the Microsoft faithful were grimacing.

The backlash, astonishingly, worked and Microsoft folded and reversed all of its policies. The controversy didn't seem to hurt early sales, but the company and the Xbox One endured a lot of ill will over the last few months.

4 of 11 CNET

8. Whose data is it, anyway?

8. Whose data is it, anyway?

Another day, another Facebook privacy scare. This came in the form of an update to its proposed Statement of Rights -- which itself had to be changed because of the settlement of its "Sponsored Stories" lawsuit -- that disclosed in scary language that your pictures, information, and content could be used in connection with commercial, sponsored, or related content.

It even added language to include minors, noting that users under 18 represent that at least one guardian agreed to the terms (which was one of the sticking points of the lawsuit).

The new language touched off another wave of outrage at the social network, which continually walks the fine line between handy networking tool and scary collector of all our personal data. Nevermind that Facebook didn’t actually change its practices from before -- it was just offering more clarity on what it does -- people were not happy with the new disclosures.

It calls to mind the language that was disclosed in Instagram's policy that allowed it to sell user photos or include them in ads. Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, later apologized and removed that language after sparking a user revolt. The disclosure came in December, so it just missed last year's top tech turkeys list. I'm happy to include it in 2013's roundup.

5 of 11 Andrew Hoyle/CNET

7. Smartwatches that aren't so smart

7. Smartwatches that aren't so smart

You have to respect Samsung Electronics for trying something new with the Galaxy Gear. But you don't have to like what they came up with. And, it turns out, few people do.

Its commercials may be slick, and call back to awesomely geeky shows like "Knight Rider" and "Star Trek," but the product itself was left wanting. The Gear was the result of rushed development, as evidenced by the sole phone that it could connect to -- the Galaxy Note 3, itself a niche super-large smartphone.

The list of complaints were legion: The battery life was too weak; it was too bulky; the decision to include a bulky camera was puzzling. Heck, even the notifications weren’t robust enough, and that was half the reason to get a smartwatch.

Samsung can rest easy knowing the Gear isn't alone. Other smartwatches like the Pebble and Sony SmartWatch 2 haven't exactly been lighting it up in sales, and there's still no compelling reason to buy one. But perhaps most importantly, they just aren't attractive. How cool can you look with a bulky touchscreen strapped to your wrist?

6 of 11 Screenshot by Wayne Cunningham/CNET

6. Smoking hot cars and planes

6. Smoking hot cars and planes

The skies and highways were a little less safe this year thanks a rash of battery fires found in Boeing's 787 Dreamliner and Tesla's Model S electric car.

Boeing got the year off on a bad start in January when the Federal Aviation Administration ordered all airlines to ground the flagship aircraft to investigate batteries that caught on fire. After an investigation into the cause of the fire, Boeing was forced to come up with a plan to fix the batteries. The FAA finally approved the fix in April.

Tesla, meanwhile, suffered through a rash of bad publicity when several Model S cars caught on fire, raising concerns about the safety of electric cars in general -- there have been incidents of other electric cars catching on fire.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk downplayed the incident, and reiterated the claim that the Model S is the safest car in America. And even one driver with a burned-out Model S said he would buy it again. You can't buy that kind of customer loyalty.

7 of 11 CBSNews

5. When your government makes a Web site

5. When your government makes a Web site

Politicians can argue, but they clearly can't code. Americans thought they could settle down and sign up for health plans following the craziness of the Obamacare-sparked government shutdown. Then they logged on to Healthcare.gov.

Correction: They tried to log into Healthcare.gov. The government-backed Web site faced some serious growing pains with site crashes, glitches, and possible incidents of privacy violations.

It was enough of a debacle that Tony Trenkle, chief information officer at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the man who oversaw the creation of the site, stepped down. President Barack Obama has expressed his regret over the flawed launch, and the government appears to be contacting tech giants in Silicon Valley -- Google, in particular -- for help.

8 of 11 James Martin/CNET

4. Facebook humbled in mobile

4. Facebook humbled in mobile

Pairing a massive social network with a smartphone should yield massive sales, right? Actually, quite the opposite.

Facebook attempted to take on the mobile world with a two-prong attack. The first, Facebook Home, was a collection of apps and software that essentially took over Android phones, turning into that mythical Facebook phone many had reported on. Home illustrated just how badly Facebook overestimated its service. People like to check on people's social statuses -- but not that much.

For Android purist, it was the worst kind of bloatware.

Facebook has since scaled back its ambitious plans to take over phones, instead focusing on building up the features of its individual apps, such as core Facebook app and messenger service. You can be sure Facebook will be a lot less bold with its future initiatives.

And the actual Facebook phone? The HTC First, a perfectly unassuming Android phone preloaded with Facebook Home. It failed badly, dropping into to the bargain bin less than a month after its debut and furthering HTC's own woes.

9 of 11 Sarah Tew/CNET

3. Pretty much anything related to Windows

3. Pretty much anything related to Windows

It was not a good year for Microsoft. The Xbox One got its fair share of heat this year, but at least the console has proven to be a hot seller.

The same can't be said for Windows 8 or its Windows RT brother. The operating system, which merged the touchscreen-centric tiles with its traditional desktop interface, has not inspired consumers to pick up new PCs.

In fact, despite many proclaiming this year to be a comeback of sorts for the PC, sales have been in free fall all year. Gartner analyst Tracy Tsai believes things have bottomed out, and the fourth quarter should see "an improvement" with only a 3 percent drop from a year ago.

PC sales have largely been hit by the increased popularity of tablets. Unfortunately, Microsoft's own tablet, the Surface, hasn't benefited from the demand. Indeed, the software giant had to take a $900 million "inventory adjustment" to write off unsold Surface RTs.

It wasn't all bleak with Windows, as its Windows Phone business picked up some market share this year, helped by Nokia churning out a number of new smartphones.

But it's clear tiles are not in with consumers, as evidenced by Windows 8.1's option to boot straight to the traditional desktop interface.

10 of 11 Guardian/Screenshot by CNET

2. NSA’s massive snooping scandal

2. NSA's massive snooping scandal

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

The leaks touched off a rabid 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.

As the reports continued, a face for the incident emerged in Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor who was revealed as the source of the leaks. Snowden ended up flying to Russia, sparking fears he could feed further state secrets to the US's biggest "frenemy," Russia. That threat never really materialized, and he was granted a one-year asylum, with the US still seeking his extradition.

Not helping the situation, leaks said the NSA also spied on leaders and citizens of several other countries, including the other members in the "Five Eyes" intelligence alliance -- the UK, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. The revelations didn't just involve the US, but it has certainly elicited the most outrage from the international community, as well as the public.

11 of 11 Sarah Tew/CNET

1. Farewell, BlackBerry?

1. Farewell, BlackBerry?

I would reserve a permanent spot on this list for BlackBerry -- its third consecutive appearance on the annual turkey list -- if I was a bit more confident the company would be around next year.

There are a lot of bigger names and wide-reaching flops on this list, but the stakes weren’t higher than they were at the once mighty smartphone maker. CEO Thorsten Heins made a bet-the-company move to launch the all-touchscreen BlackBerry Z10 as its debut device to show off BlackBerry 10, which blew up spectacularly.

Topping Microsoft’s mind-boggling write-down of the Surface was the $934 million charge BlackBerry took to write off its inventory of unsold Z10s. Perhaps it shares the same graveyard as the unsold Palm Foleos and the E.T. Atari game.

Sure, there were other flops on this list, but none shook up a company more than the failure of the Z10, and more broadly, the BlackBerry 10 platform. The decision to lead with the Z10 effectively hobbled any momentum its keyboard-packing Q10 would have had. Now, the company has essentially retreated from the consumer market, focusing on big businesses and "power users" -- whoever they may be.

Interim CEO John Chen has cleared house, with Heins stepping down, along with Chief Financial Officer Brian Bidulka, Chief Operating Officer Kristian Tear, and Chief Marketing Officer Frank Boulben. Chen wants the company, which failed in its attempt to go private, to focus more on software. He undoubtedly will give it his best shot, but many believe the company will ultimately be broken up and sold for pieces.

Those are CNET's tech turkeys, but what say you? Feel free to submit your own nominations for biggest blunders of the year in the comments below.

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