Let's kick things off with a lighthearted item. We're still scratching our heads over the term "covfefe" nearly six months after President Donald Trump's late-night tweet (now deleted) featuring the bizarre word that confused most of America before becoming a global trending topic. Even stranger was that then-White House spokesman Sean Spicer actually defended the tweet, telling reporters, "The president and a small group of people know exactly what he meant." Okay...
Gallery first published Nov. 17, 5 a.m. PT. Update, Nov. 20 at 2:05 p.m. PT: Adds more details on Apple and Magic Leap. Update Nov. 23 at 5 a.m. PT: Adds slides on Uber and HQ trivia app.
First there was the Essential phone and its tiny notch at the top of the screen. Then Apple stepped in with its wider notch on the iPhone X. The early reaction was negative, with many phone buyers turned off by the notion that an oblong bar was obscuring the top of the screen. People got over it, instead directing their outrage at more important stuff. Like the official death of the headphone jack.
If you need another reminder of how big a role Amazon plays in your life, look no further than the massive outage that took down a part of the internet when the online retailer's cloud services business went on the fritz. Sites like Quora, Imgur, Giphy and Slack were down. Ironically, the sites Is It Down Right Now? and Down Detector also had their own issues.
The iPhone shedding its headphone jack wasn't an outlier, but the start of a trend. This year, we saw the Motorola Moto Z Force and Google Pixel 2 XL go with just a USB-C connection, in addition to Apple pressing on sans headphone jack with the iPhone 8 and iPhone X. At least Samsung is keeping hope alive for folks who don't want to deal with dongles. For now.
Amazon made a big splash last holiday season by showing off its experimental Seattle convenience store that did away with cashiers, the idea being to let you grab whatever you need and just walk out. Apparently the idea was too experimental, because it still hasn't launched, despite a slated opening for the first half of this year. Now the opening date is anyone's guess, although a Bloomberg report says Amazon might be working out the kinks.
Poor LG. The company picked up the pieces of the failed modular gimmick of the G5 and presented a more polished successor in the G6, emphasizing a bigger display in a smaller body. Too bad Samsung came around shortly after that and blew everyone away with the Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus. Maybe LG's V30 will have more luck.
Hardly anyone uses AOL Instant Messenger anymore, but it's hard not to shed a tear for the communications tool of our youth. AOL, now part of Verizon's Oath unit, said it would shut down the service on Dec. 15. Get your last IM in while you can.
Remember when Apple said it wanted to "double down on secrecy"? Now recall that it leaked information on the iPhone X, Face ID, Apple TV 4K and virtually everything in its product portfolio -- twice! The first revelation happened through a HomePod beta firmware update in July, and the second came in an early version of iOS 11 in early September.
Aside from an underwhelming early look in February, the world still doesn't have a great idea of what Magic Leap can do. The startup has been mostly quiet, but it lost a bit of its shine from a few years ago when it was one of the hotter startups out there. Almost no one outside of investors and celebrities has even tried the technology yet.
After months of discussions and rampant speculation over the merger between the No. 3 and No. 4 US carriers, the two ended up staying separate when SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son decided he didn't want to give up control of Sprint. That leaves many wondering whether Sprint has the resources to compete on its own, especially as the industry gets to the point where pricey upgrades to 5G are required.
BlackBerry got a second lease on life thanks to Chinese company TCL, best-known for budget phones and televisions. TCL had a lot of momentum going into 2017, and somehow saw its market share decline in the third quarter despite the addition of BlackBerry to its portfolio. Still, the company said BlackBerry sales and reception exceeded expectations.
Our PCs and phones are chock full of our most personal information, so hardware makers work hard to keep that out of the hands of hackers. HP, for example, sells laptops with a special screen mode that keeps the person next to you on a plane from snooping on your spreadsheet. So HP no doubt was chagrined when a security researcher found in May that the company had shipped laptops with keylogger software whose debugging mode recorded passwords, love letters, sales forecasts and anything else you type into an unencrypted file. HP rapidly issued a fix.
Netflix hikes rates right before 'Stranger Things 2'
Way to squeeze you when it hurts the most. Just before the arrival of "Stranger Things" season two, Netflix raised the price of its standard plan by $1 to $10.99, and its 4K plan by $2 to $13.99 (the entry-level plan stays at $7.99). But let's face it, you were happy to pay up if it meant seeing more of Sheriff Hopper, Eleven and the rest of the Hawkins, Indiana, crew.
Published:Caption:Roger ChengPhoto:Jackson Lee Davis/Netflix
Google’s $2.72 billion EU fine
In June, the European Union handed out its biggest ever fine (2.42 billion euros) to Google for prioritizing its own shopping services over those of its rivals in its search results. Google is appealing the fine but also faces two other investigations into its advertising practices and into its Android software.
Published:Caption:Roger ChengPhoto:Screenshot by Joan E. Solsman/CNET
Ted Cruz liking that, um, porn tweet
Social media and Capitol Hill went ape in September after Texas Sen. Ted Cruz's official Twitter account apparently "liked" a snippet from a porn video in a tweet from the account @SexuallPosts. The conservative was both praised and ridiculed on Twitter as the hashtag #tedcruz trended worldwide. The 2016 Republican presidential candidate later said a staffer with access to his account was to blame, and he even joked, "Perhaps we should have done something like this during the Indiana primary."
Published:Caption:Roger ChengPhoto:Bill Clark / Getty Images
Apple Watch Series 3 and that battery
In our view, the Apple Watch remains the best smartwatch option for someone keen on wearables. But the Series 3 version drew mixed critical reviews for its ability to handle a cellular connection -- the marquee new feature on the watch. If you're using the cellular radio, battery life takes a major hit, with the Wall Street Journal calling it "unreliable."
There seemed to be a lot going for Essential, the startup founded by the godfather of Android, Andy Rubin. The company boasted talent from Google and HTC, and it had the backing of strategic partners like Amazon. The company's debut phone looked like a slick product. Yet Essential missed its self-imposed deadline of June, launching in late August. Two months later, it instituted a $200 price cut.
One nagging issue with an otherwise strong addition to Google's Pixel family is the display of the Pixel 2 XL. Early on, there was chatter about a bluish tint or grainy texture on the screen. Then there was the possibility that images may permanently "burn in" on the OLED display. Google does say its warranty covers display-related defects, but things get complicated from there. The company did roll out updates to reduce the chance of burn-in, and also offered a new "Saturated Mode" to help with the colors.
For the sake of convenience, Amazon is asking consumers to give up more of their privacy -- perhaps too much. The company this year faced consumer complaints and mockery after introducing two new concepts. The first is the Echo Look, an Alexa-powered speaker with a built-in camera that people feared could spy on them. The other, Amazon Key, lets delivery people open your front door to slide packages inside, and -- according to some critics on Twitter -- rob and murder people. Time will tell if either of Amazon's ideas catch on, but at least the introduction for both proved bumpy.
Facebook is testing a program in Australia to combat the spread of revenge porn. Sounds great, until you hear the details: You send in your nude photos to Facebook (you read this right). It then scans the images into digital code, which can be used to block that image from ever appearing on the site in the event that someone else gets hold of them and decides to share. Has there ever been more of a Silicon Valley solution to a problem?
James Damore, an engineer at Google, shook up the company when his 10-page, 3,300-word manifesto titled "Google's Ideological Echo Chamber" went viral in August. In it, he argued that the gender gap existed not necessarily because of sexism, but partly because of "biological" differences between men and women. (All the while, the US Department of Labor has been investigating Google for possible gender pay inequality.) The matter reached such an uproar that CEO Sundar Pichai, who was on a family vacation in Africa and Europe when the news broke, had to cut his trip short and fly back to California to deal with things. He ended up firing Damore, who became a rallying point for conservatives and the alt-right. David Brooks, the New York Times' conservative columnist, called for Pichai to resign. (He didn't.)
Snap's first year as a public company has been a rough one. The company continues to lose money, which would be acceptable if it grew at a torrid pace (It does not). Hammered by competition from Instagram Stories, Snap admitted to Wall Street after its disappointing third-quarter results that its confusing Snapchat user experience is a negative and that it's working on an update that's easier to use. We haven't even mentioned the $40 million charge it took for all of its unsold Spectacles yet.
While Twitter showed progress combating harassment and abusive behavior in 2017, it still has a long way to go. CEO Jack Dorsey tweeted late last year to ask for suggestions to improve the platform, and curbing harassment was a top response. While the hate remains, Twitter said in July it had disciplined 10 times more accounts than it did last year. By October, Dorsey tweeted furiously that more changes were coming. This was mostly in response to the #WomenBoycottTwitter protest urging folks to not tweet for a day to make Twitter improve how it examines content.
Now Twitter has publicly released its internal calendar specifying when certain changes to halt abuse will take effect. Dorsey uncomfortably tweeted: "We believe showing our thinking and work in real-time will help build trust." Twitter recently stripped the verified badges of white supremacists Richard Spencer and Jason Kessler and banned alt-right troll Tim Gionet a.k.a @BakedAlaska. Naturally, the moves became a trending topic.
It's not everyday that the head of one of the largest conglomerates in the world goes to jail, but Samsung isn't your normal company. Vice Chairman and Samsung heir Jay Y. Lee was sentenced to five years in prison for bribery and other charges, part of a massive corruption scandal that engulfed the country's former president. It probably isn't a coincidence that Samsung has unveiled sweeping changes to its leadership, installing three new co-CEOs.
One of the most interesting stories last year was Chinese tech and media giant LeEco launching in the US with products ranging from phones to televisions to smart bikes. Just a few months later, the company said it was cutting 70 percent of its staff in a heavy retreat, with reports of employees not getting paid on time. The company insisted it would maintain a presence in the US, but it has fallen off the radar, making it one of the fastest-sinking tech ships ever.
Published:Caption:Roger ChengPhoto:VCG via Getty Images
Mobile trivia meets serious drama
In one of the odder stories of the year, Rus Yusupov, the CEO and co-founder of popular trivia app HQ, threatened to fire host Scott Rogowsky for talking to the press. The Daily Beast interviewed Rogowsky for a "lighthearted profile" to discuss hot-button issues like salad for lunch and how much people love trivia. Once Yusupov caught wind of the interview, he reportedly threatened to fire the host if The Daily Beast published the profile. Rogowsky mostly avoided the flap the next night on HQ, reportedly greeting fans after the game started late with: "Technical difficulties. That about sums things up, and I mean everything." He continued, "Nice to be here, having a totally normal Tuesday."
It's hard to be succinct when it comes to Uber's turkeys over the past year. The ride-hailing company was wracked with scandals and saw a spectacular fall from grace that led to the crumbling of its executive leadership and five separate Department of Justice investigations. Leaked emails and videos over the year showed everything from then-CEO Travis Kalanick berating an Uber driver to descriptions of drug-fueled staff parties in Las Vegas. One revelation exposed high-level executives consorting with escorts in South Korea. The company was also caught using possibly illegal software. One program, "Greyball," was created to help drivers evade police and the other, "Hell," was designed to spy on rival Lyft.
The #DeleteUber movement was the first domino to fall for the ride-hailing company. Back in January, shortly after President Donald Trump took the oath of office, Uber was riding high, and CEO Travis Kalanick had been appointed to the president's strategic forum of business leaders. Then Trump issued his travel ban. As protests raged across the country and tech industry heavyweights slammed the rules that would bar immigration from seven majority Muslim countries, Kalanick's reaction was seen as not sufficiently critical. Meanwhile, Uber halted surge pricing during a taxi strike aligned with protests at New York's JFK airport, which was seen as both breaking the strike and profiting off the demonstrations. Hence, #DeleteUber was born. En masse, passengers wiped the app from their phones. When all was said and done, it's estimated Uber lost roughly 500,000 customers.
Uber's sexual harassment, chaotic culture and leather jackets
A single blog post by a former employee marked the beginning of the end of Uber's freewheeling days. In February, Susan Fowler published an essay titled "Reflecting on one very, very strange year at Uber." The post said the company was overrun by a chaotic corporate culture and unprofessional business practices. It also detailed specific instances of sexual harassment and preferential treatment toward male employees. In an anecdote, Fowler said male employees in one department were given leather jackets but women were left out. Why? Because there simply weren't enough female employees to justify placing an order for smaller sizes. This blog post led to two internal investigations into Uber's business practices and the toppling of its chain of command.
Google sues Uber over pilfered self-driving car tech
This lawsuit has all the elements of a good spy novel: multibillion-dollar companies, theft of trade secrets, deceit and intrigue. Waymo, the self-driving car unit of Google's parent company Alphabet, claims that Uber's star engineer stole 14,000 "highly confidential" files for its autonomous vehicle technology. Uber proclaims its innocence. Since the suit was filed in February, the back-and-forth between the two companies has led to juicy revelations rarely seen by the public. Court documents have exposed the inner workings of backroom deals and secretive self-driving car projects with names like "Spider." If Uber is found to have pilfered the files, it may be forced to halt its autonomous vehicle program and hand nearly $2 billion over to Waymo. The trial is slated to begin Dec. 4.
Uber suffered yet another blow when regulator Transport for London declared it would not renew the ride-hailing company's license to operate in the British capital. TfL's assessment of Uber said the company "lacked corporate responsibility" and was "not fit and proper" to hold a license. Uber is appealing the decision and new CEO Dara Khosrowshahi flew to London to appease the regulators. But so far, not a peep from Uber or TfL. London cabbies aren't crying about it.
Uber's terrible year culminated in a total collapse of its executive team in June. At this point, the company had been beleaguered by scandals for months and was conducting two internal investigations, including one led by former US Attorney General Eric Holder. Leading up to the release of Holder's report in June, executives began to drop from the company. Uber said goodbye to not only its president, but also its vice presidents of business, finance, software, mapping, communications, global programs and more. Twenty employees were fired and 31 others were put into training and counseling. And then, after Holder's report hit, the unthinkable happened: CEO Travis Kalanick stepped down. Kalanick co-founded Uber and had long made it clear he'd never relinquish his baby. But in a turn of events, five of the company's major investors forced him out. In a departing statement, Kalanick said, "I have accepted the investors' request to step aside so that Uber can go back to building rather than be distracted with another fight."
Published:Caption:Roger ChengPhoto:Screengrab by Dara Kerr
Here's what we learned from Facebook, Google and Twitter's visit to Washington DC: that Russia is really good at creating -- and spreading -- fake news, that it definitely swayed the 2016 US presidential election and that it likely hasn't slowed down. Hearings in Congress placed a spotlight on Russia's Internet Research Agency, a troll farm that was particularly good at creating fake stories and fomenting outrage. The tech companies have vowed to fight outside influence, but the jury's out on whether they'll be effective.
Fake news was declared "word of the year" by Collins Dictionaries this month, despite the fact that it is, in fact, very much two words. That it's entered the public lexicon speaks to how fully it's consumed us. President Trump calls media outlets like The New York Times and CNN "fake news." And as we learned in the prior entry, there are plenty of hoax stories and information unwittingly spread by social media and errant search results. Companies like Facebook are throwing tech and people at the problem, with mixed results.
Sadly, cybersecurity threats will have a perennial place on this list. It's so comprehensive we need to take this in different parts. The rate of attacks was exhausting, and these are just the high (or low) lights.
Credit-monitoring service Equifax, the company you usually go to when you've lost your personal information, managed to get itself hacked, losing 145.5 million Social Security numbers. Then there was the company's initial reaction, which directed you toward signing up for its own credit check service and at the same time potentially waiving your right to a lawsuit (the company said that wasn't the case). The incident cost Equifax's CEO his job, and in turn he blamed a single person and "a bad scanner" for the hack.
You know what's worse than 1 billion accounts getting compromised? How about all 3 billion of Yahoo's accounts getting breached in a hack that happened in 2013? Yahoo made the list last year for disclosing the 1 billion accounts exposed by an attack in 2013, but in October updated that number by clarifying that all accounts were affected. Yahoo's new parent, Verizon, said it is investing in enhancing its security.
Thanks to WannaCry, you probably know what ransomware is. The software, which locks up your computer until you pay the ransom, was able to spread rapidly across everything from hospitals to pharmaceutical giants, thanks to a file-sharing capability in older versions of Windows. Another attack, called GoldenEye, hit a month later, suggesting this is just the start.
It turns out that virtually everything that runs on Wi-Fi (so everything) has a crack in the most widely used Wi-Fi security protocol, WPA2. Conveniently, it's called Krack. Hackers can use this flaw to get into your network and snoop for sensitive data like passwords and credit card numbers. The one good thing is the attacks have to be done locally, when you and the hacker are on the same network. But it's a reminder to be mindful of which Wi-Fi networks you should jump on. Fortunately, many companies were briefed on this flaw and issued patches to shore up the vulnerability.
2017 was a year when men who behaved (really) badly faced their reckoning. Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein may be the poster child for sexual harassment, but he isn't alone. Venture capital executives were already falling over themselves by issuing their apologies, and it's clear this behavior is more prevalent than anyone wants to admit. Once again, the examples are so widespread that we have to break this into multiple parts.
Shervin Pishevar, an early investor in Uber and chairman of Hyperloop One, was arrested, but never charged, with alleged rape, according to Forbes. Pishevar told Forbes he was the victim of a smear campaign. Steve Jurvetson left his namesake firm, Draper Fisher Jurvetson, amid allegations of sexual harassment. Jurvetson said he is taking legal action over false statements made about him.
It wasn't just in the VC world. In the world of online entertainment news, Harry Knowles from geek media gossip site Ain't It Cool news and Devin Faraci, editor-in-chief of entertainment blog Birth.Movies.Death faced their own charges of sexual assault. Faraci stepped down after the allegations. Andy Signore, founder of "Honest Trailers" on YouTube, was fired by parent Defy Media after claims of sexual abuse.
Then there are the producers themselves, including Amazon Studios chief Roy Price, who resigned after allegations he sexually harassed a female producer. Amazon initially suspended Price after the claims were made public. At this point, it's becoming exhausting.
Tech blogger and evangelist Robert Scoble had an interesting reaction to the allegations that he sexually harassed several women: He couldn't have done it because he was not in a position of power, and wasn't able to harm or influence their careers. The 2,435-word blog post details this justification, which was widely criticized when it came out.
Finally, there's Kevin Spacey. While not in the tech field himself, the allegations that he made sexual advances toward a then-14-year-old actor Anthony Rapp (and the subsequent allegations from others), resulted in Netflix cutting ties with the actor. Spacey was one of the driving forces behind "House of Cards," the first high-profile original series by Netflix that helped kickstart the company's investment in making its own content.