The biggest Australian tech stories of 2014

It's been a big year in tech: the government debated privacy and piracy, the NBN was curtailed as 4G grew and Australian innovation had its own winners (and losers). Herewith, the year that was.

Claire Reilly
Claire Reilly was a video host, journalist and producer covering all things space, futurism, science and culture. Whether she's covering breaking news, explaining complex science topics or exploring the weirder sides of tech culture, Claire gets to the heart of why technology matters to everyone. She's been a regular commentator on broadcast news, and in her spare time, she's a cabaret enthusiast, Simpsons aficionado and closet country music lover. She originally hails from Sydney but now calls San Francisco home.
Claire Reilly
1 of 10 Image by CeBIT Australia, CC BY 2.0

The Government eyes your metadata

One of the biggest stories this year was the Government's quest for data retention.

While they initially fumbled the definition, and put browsing history within scope, Malcolm Turnbull later ruled it out. But concerns remained, and the idea that metadata could be used to chase pirates also reared its head.

Legislation was tabled in October and piracy once again became a talking point, but with the bill yet to pass, this debate is far from over.

2 of 10 CSIRO

CSIRO faces major cuts

While the Government was eyeing your data, CSIRO was eyeing its future, with major funding cuts announced as part of the Federal Budget in May.

Treasurer Joe Hockey confirmed that CSIRO's belt would be tightened to the order of AU$111.4 million over 4 years, threatening Australia's leading scientific research organisation which conducts research on areas as diverse as climate change, astronomy and mineral resources. The cuts later came into stark relief when CSIRO announced it would have reduce infectious disease research, just as the ebola crisis was hitting its peak.

3 of 10 Wikileaks

Behind closed doors

In November, Wikileaks published the draft IP chapter of the Trans-Pacific Partnership -- a major international trade agreement being negotiated between Australia and 11 other countries. The signatories accounting for 40 percent of global GDP, but negotiations have been going on behind closed doors since 2010, leaving the public in the dark.

Said to be one of the more contentious parts of the agreement, the Intellectual Property Chapter has major implications for issues such as geoblocking and DRM, "criminalisation" of piracy, fair use laws and the lifespan of copyright. While details are still sketchy, Australians could see major changes to their digital rights when the final deal is signed off.

4 of 10 Catch of the Day

Once more unto the breach

Daily deals website Catch of the Day had a major headache on its hands this year when it revealed that customer information had been compromised in a hack. While the news was bad in itself, Catch of the Day came under fire for taking a staggering three years to reveal the breach.

The delay in admitting fault prompted Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus to renew calls for mandatory data breach disclosure laws to protect consumers. There's been no real movement on this front, but if Sony's high profile hack at the close of 2014 has taught us anything, it's that our most private information is not necessarily as secure as we think.

5 of 10 NBN Co

The NBN becomes the MTM

Goodbye FTTP -- it was good while it lasted.

As part of a drive to make the NBN available quicker and for less money, Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced NBN Co would be working under a new 'multi-technology mix' with FTTP, FTTN, HFC, fixed wireless and satellite.

The Federal Government later dropped its acronym count by officially killing FTTP, and NBN Co's acquisition of Telstra and Optus' legacy copper and HFC networks finally locked Australia into a mixed technology future.

6 of 10 Claire Reilly/CNET

Wi-Fi outdoors, 4G indoors

Getting internet access on the run became a bit easier in 2014 thanks to a number of cities setting up free public Wi-Fi networks -- including AdelaideCanberra and Perth -- and Telstra embarking on its ambitious mission to launch an Australia-wide public Wi-Fi network.

Thanks to a bit of spectrum wangling, Telstra and Vodafone also brought better mobile internet to indoor areas with low-frequency 4G switching on across the country, while Optus expanded 4G to 200 new regional locations.

7 of 10 Image by Jaskirat Singh Bawa, CC BY-ND 2.0

Pirates put on watch

In a bid to lose the title of biggest nation of pirates, the Federal Government spent 2014 weighing up the possibility of site blocking and a three-strikes policy for those found pirating (a move that was criticised as ineffective).

After engaging in a war of words with its old legal adversary Village Roadshow, iiNet was also taken back to court in an attempt to block Dallas Buyers Club from getting details on customers alleged to have pirated the film.

As this legal stoush played out, anti-piracy site-blocking legislation was finally ushered into parliament in December, and ISPs were told to play nice with rights holders and jointly develop a code to stop piracy in Australia. They have until April 8, 2015.

8 of 10 Netflix

Streaming gets a shake-up

Access to cheap and timely content is often cited as the best weapon against piracy, and Australians will hopefully be in a better position in this respect with the arrival of a number of new content streaming services announced for 2015.

Netflix is due in March, bringing with it a strong recommendation engine and a warning to ISPs to lift their game. Foxtel is shaping up as a strong competitor for Netflix, after it reduced pay TV pricing, halved prices for its Presto streaming service and launched a new venture with Channel Seven known as Presto Entertainment. Fairfax and Nine Entertainment will also be hoping to meet these services at the pass with Stan, a rebranded version of the old StreamCo.

9 of 10 Uber

Uber wins (and loses) public favour

The California-based challenger to the taxi industry launched ridesharing in Australia this year, generating plenty of buzz from the public and protestations from the taxi industry. Various state government authorities weighed into the debate, with some hedging their bets on whether Uber X is illegal, and others warning that drivers faced fines.

The service is still operating, but it hasn't all been clear sailing for Uber in 2014. After running a 'free ice cream' promotion in July, customers complained that they were hit with hidden credit card charges, while the company also copped flack for quadrupling prices during the Sydney Siege in December.

10 of 10 Sunswift

Sunswift's electric dreams

Australia rounded out the year with some good news in the innovation stakes, with Sunswift's eVe making car tech headlines for all the right reasons.

The electric vehicle, which is designed, built and engineered by students from UNSW, broke the world land speed record for an electric vehicle travelling over a 500km distance on a single charge -- a record that had stood since 1988. The team then started a campaign to raise funds to make the eVe street legal, and after a whirlwind 10 days, they hit their AU$30,000 crowd funding target just before Christmas. Tesla eat your heart out -- this EV is totally home-grown.

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