2014 in Tech Review: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

December 23, 2014

8:00 am

Editor’s Note: The opinions in this story belong to the writer. 

It’s time to look back at 2014 and review some of our industry’s achievements and failures this year. There are many lessons to be learned in tech as we prepare for 2015.

In this list, we’ve included examples of exceptional leadership and innovation. But we also included decisions that perhaps need to be revisited in 2015 for lack of vision and originality. And then, there are the examples of decisions and outcomes that were a complete fail.

Here are the good, the bad and the ugly in tech in 2014.

The Good 

1. Apple’s CEO Tim Cook 

On October of this year, the CEO of Apple made history by becoming the first openly gay CEO of a Fortune 500 company. He published an essay on Bloomberg Businessweek advocating for human rights and equality, where he shared information about his private life.

“While I have never denied my sexuality, I haven’t publicly acknowledged it either, until now,” wrote Cook. “So let me be clear: I’m proud to be gay, and I consider being gay among the greatest gifts God has given me.”

Cook said he was inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King to set aside his desire for privacy to do something “more important.”

Tim Cook Apple CEO Bloomberg Pic

 

2. Alibaba IPO Sets New Record

In September of this year, Alibaba’s initial public offering became the world’s biggest at $25 billion. It surpassed the 2010 offering from the Agricultural Bank of China, which raised $22.1 billion in it debut on the Hong Kong Stock.

According to Forbes, Alibaba was able to sell more shares due to its over-allotment, which allowed underwriters to appease investor demand for the stock by obtaining more shares from the company at the IPO price.

Alibaba IPO Forbes

3. Apple Pay

In October, Apple released the iPhone 6 and with it Apple Pay. The new payment solution is based on a well-known technology called Near-Field Communication (NFC) that allows you to exchange data between the point of sale and the consumer’s phone.

The launch came at the right time, when retailers in the United States are starting moving toward the EMV payment system, a more secure and convenient payment alternative.

apple-pay-cards

 

The Bad

1. Celebrity iCloud Hack

Privacy–or the lack of it–was a thorny topic of debate in 2014. The debate hit one of its high points in the late summer, when dozens of celebrities’ iCloud accounts were hacked, leading to the embarrassing leaking of nude photos. The hacker took advantage of a security flaw in Apple’s online backup service. This was a lesson for us all in what is “brute force” and security. It was also a social debate as the kind of information we store on our cloud.

jlaw icloud hacked

 

2. Ello, the Anti-Facebook

Ello launched in August and took the internet by storm, averaging 31,000 signups per hour in the first two weeks. What made Ello different was its claim that it could be profitable without selling user data, making it attractive to the ever-growing number of privacy-concerned consumers. Ello raised $5.5 M in funding for product development in October.

So why was it bad? It didn’t live up to the hype. It seemed like a great idea (ad-free social network that doesn’t collect your data), but once you signed up (there was a waiting list), the site left a lot to be desired when it came to look and functionality. Of course, there is a lot of room for improvement and development, but with all the hype surrounding the network (great PR stunt?), expectations were way too high.

Ello Social Network

3. Silicon Valley’s Diversity Problem

Earlier this year, Silicon Valley’s major tech companies, including  Google, Yahoo, and Facebook released figures showing diversity in their workplace. It was no surprise to most that these numbers showed a large percentage of white male or male asian. Employees at these firms are more than 60 percent male; meanwhile, black and Hispanic workers often account for less than 10 percent of their worker population.

The relatively small numbers of minorities that are employed in high-tech are also paid less: a recent study from the American Institute for Economic Research showed that Asians, Hispanics and blacks all earn less than their Caucasian counterparts.

This started a heated debate, and most of the major companies said they are starting to address the problem by training managers and working with professional associations and non-profit groups to get more girls and minority children interested in tech.

The Ugly

1. Net Neutrality 

In November of this year, President Obama endorsed a popular proposal to empower the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that would protect Net Neutrality, to require Internet service providers to treat all web traffic equally and not charge content providers for better access.

This came after several legal defeats of the FCC, including the federal court of appeals decision to strike down the organization’s Open Internet Order, which was designed to prevent Internet service providers from blocking or slowing users’ connections to online content. The court did not comment on the validity of these rules but simply said that the FCC had used the wrong legal foundation to justify them.

“We cannot allow Internet service providers to restrict the best access or to pick winners and losers in the online marketplace for services and ideas,” Obama said in a statement.

Although President Obama’s support is a positive stance in favor of net neutrality, the fact that telecom giants like AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon have been gaining political support for the control over online content infringes on what we consider to be an open Internet. Without Net Neutrality, these companies can charge users more for access and services.

 

2. Travis Kalanik, CEO of Uber

It’s never been easy for Uber; it seems like every launch city comes with a political battle where local taxi companies look to protect their space. But Uber always comes out on top, with the support of millions of users who value the convenience and efficiency that the company offers. But this year, Uber crossed the line and the blame can only fall on its leadership.

It started in November of this year, when senior vice president at Uber, Emil Michael, reportedly said the San Francisco ride-hailing company should think about hiring a team to find incriminating information on its media critics, starting with Sarah Lacy, the editor of the Silicon Valley website PandoDaily who has criticized the firm. (Michael has said he made the statements at a private dinner, off the record, out of frustration.) Uber’s founder and CEO, Travis Kalanik, did not dismiss Michael.

There were also claims over rifts and attempts to sabotage competitors, including ride-sharing company Lyft, displaying a company culture that lacks humbleness and resembles bullying.  In the past few weeks, allegations of lax background check on drivers, has forced the company to suspend services in New Delhi and Portland.

travis kalanicks

 

3. The Sony Hack

What makes this particular hack ugly is that it evolved into a full on political spar between U.S. and North Korea, with President Obama accusing North Korea of “cybervandalism” and Pyongyang claiming that the U.S. government was behind the making of the movie “The Interview” about a plot to assassinate its leader, Kim Jong Un.

The hacking of Sony Pictures Entertainment led to the leaking of major films, internal documents, memos, salaries and emails from top executives. Sony pulled The Interview from a planned theatrical release. Hackers who claimed responsibility are the “Guardians of Peace’’ group.  Celebrities are enraged, leaders from each political party are bickering over North Korea,  and the idea of a “new form of warfare” taking place is starting to consume the minds of the public.

The issue here is: how are private corporations working with the government to address cyber security? The Sony hack is not an act of war, and if the media continues to create fear with its over-the-top rhetoric of cyber security paranoia, things can get out of hand.

The Interview Hacked

 

 

 

 

 

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Camila has been heavily active in South Florida’s tech startup community, where she is a co-host of a local radio show called pFunkcast. Camila previously worked at Greenpeace International and the Organization of the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in various communication roles. A proud Brazilian who spent most of he life in Peru, she is passionate about traveling and documentaries.

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