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This is when things went from bad to worse. We learned Facebook, Twitter and the rest of social media by Russia, North Korea, Iran and other countries hoping to interfere in the US elections. The #MeToo movement and other bad behavior throughout Silicon Valley. And Uber’s self-driving car killed someone.
If the middle of the decade was when things started to go wrong, this is when the turn became unmistakable.
Politicians who’d spent years cozying up to tech execs like they were rock star icons of the American dream were now threatening to write laws to rein them in. The US Federal Trade Commission, the Department of Justice and congressional committees began taking a hard look at whether the privacy failures at Facebook and Google were illegal.
The span from 2017 to 2018 was when .
The do-gooder persona cultivated by executives like Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Twitter chief Jack Dorsey, Google head Sundar Pichai and so many others fell apart. In its place, we saw execs seemingly clueless about the rampant abuse on their platforms.
This is the third part of our series about the biggest tech scandals of the decade. ‘s revelations about the National Security Agency. Part 2 covered .
Now we look at the fallout from tech’s failure to effectively self-govern.
We want to hear from you. Let us know which scandal you think was the worst and why.
Kiss your Social Security number goodbye
Credit-monitoring Lucknow Escorts 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 for the hack.
And if that wasn’t fun enough, . Because of course it did. (But you still have time to sign up for a money payout or 10 years of free credit monitoring. .)
PewDiePie, biggest YouTube personality, hits a snag
YouTube star PewDiePie (Felix Kjellberg) faced backlash after he posted a since-deleted video that showed him laughing while two men held up a sign that said “death to all Jews.”
, a key part of the YouTube Red subscription service. His apology: a “Let’s Play” gaming video in which he goes on a mission to kill Adolf Hitler in a game.
Following the incident, Kjellberg got in more trouble when, for example, he used a racial slur on a livestream. In 2018, a man said “” shortly in which he at two Mosques in, an anti-hate group. But he after criticism from fans.
Men behaving (really) badly
2017 was a year when men who behaved (really) badly faced their reckoning. Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein became a , but he wasn’t alone. Venture capital executives were already falling over themselves to issue apologies, and it soon became clear this behavior was more prevalent than anyone wanted to admit.
Justin Caldbeck, co-founder of Silicon Valley venture capital fund Binary Capital, and took an indefinite leave of absence after reported on his behavior. (He’s since , claiming mismanagement of the fund after he left.)
Chris Sacca, an early investor in companies like Twitter, Uber and Instagram, after he was named in a New York Times report about sexual harassment in the tech startup field.
Dave McClure was another venture capitalist named in the New York Times report. McClure , which he founded in 2010. He’s since started a new fund, .
Frank Artale, a managing partner at Ignition Partners, resigned .
Steve Jurvetson , Draper Fisher Jurvetson, amid allegations of sexual harassment. He’s since founded a new .
Uber’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year
The ride-hailing company was wracked with scandals and saw a spectacular fall from grace that led to five separate and the crumbling of its .
Leaked emails and videos over the year showed everything from then-CEO Travis Kalanick to descriptions of drug-fueled staff parties in Las Vegas. One revelation exposed high-level executives in South Korea.
The company was also caught using possibly illegal software. One program, “Greyball,” was created to help drivers and the other, “Hell,” was designed to .
The turmoil hit Uber where it hurts. The world’s highest-valued venture backed startup, with a valuation of $68 billion at the time, saw a and a .
The 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 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. It’s estimated Uber lost roughly 500,000 customers.
Uber’s sexual harassment, chaotic culture and leather jackets
A single 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 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.
Ultimately, Kalanick was forced out, though he remains on the board of directors. In his place was new , who eventually .
US spying tools exposed
The federal government is going to need a good plumber because it’s got a serious leak problem. Both the CIA and the National Security Agency saw their hacking tools and secrets exposed to the public. WikiLeaks released several CIA secrets, including how the . After hacking group Shadow Brokers exposed the NSA tools, hackers used the information , known as WannaCry.
Twitter can’t figure out its abuse problem
Graphic by Pixabay/Illustration by CNET
Though Twitter showed progress combating harassment and abusive behavior in 2017, it still has a long way to go. CEO Jack Dors than it did the previous year. By October, Dorsey tweeted that more changes were coming. This was mostly in response to the urging folks to not tweet for a day to make Twitter improve how it examines content.
Dorsey : “We believe showing our thinking and work in real-time will help build trust.” Twitter of white supremacists Richard Spencer and Jason Kessler and banned alt-right troll Tim Gionet, aka @BakedAlaska. Naturally, the moves became a trending topic.
The tale of the Apple battery
There’s an old conspiracy theory that Apple strategically when it launches new ones. The idea, in theory, is to cajole customers into buying new phones.
Well, it turned out to be true. Kinda. What we learned in late 2017 was that Apple’s software does slow down phones when it senses batteries aren’t performing well, .
Considering this has been a long-running conspiracy theory, the controversy became a firestorm. Apple apologized for not being forthright, and offered for $29 each, instead of charging them the typical $79.
Facebook stumbles into a massive scandal with Cambridge Analytica
At the beginning of 2018, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said his New Year’s resolution was to fix Facebook. He’d likely agree that he didn’t accomplish that task. In March, The New York Times and The Guardian’s Observer broke the news that the social networking giant had covered up a massive data leak of people’s names, emails, likes and friends that .
Propelling the scandal further: Cambridge Analytica, the political consultancy that received the data, had worked for Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. In the end, Zuckerberg was to give his first public testimony to the Senate and House of Representatives. Of course, that turned out to be a scandal of its own…
The #Zucktimony on Capitol Hill
A little over a month after the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke, Zuckerberg began his first public testimony before a joint hearing of the Senate’s Commerce and Judiciary Committees. Congress and the public were pissed. Polls showed . It looked like lawmakers were preparing to regulate the whole tech industry over the episode.
About an hour in, however, Facebook’s shares shot up. Wall Street was convinced the show was a nothing burger because senators embarrassed themselves . When one senator asked how the company makes money, Zuckerberg replied, “.” Cheers broke out at Facebook HQ, where the proceeding was being watched and, of course, someone turned it into a T-shirt. Legislation, meanwhile has lost momentum, and even the widely supported “” hasn’t gotten off the ground.
#MeToo comes to Google
reported in October that Google had routinely paid high-profile men at the company to leave when it discovered credible allegations of sexual misbehavior. Android boss Andy Rubin, for example, was reportedly paid $90 million . The Times’ findings enraged many Google employees, sparking around the world.
One positive outcome: The company that sexual harassment and assault complaints go to arbitration. Other tech companies, including Facebook, .
Logan Paul uploads video of a dead body on YouTube
Logan Paul, one of YouTube’s biggest stars, posted videos to his 15 million subscribers late last year chronicling a trip to Japan. Many of the videos were eye-roll worthy enough. One example: He at people on the street. But things got unpleasant when he visited a forest that’s become . While the cameras were rolling, he and his crew found a body — video that he later uploaded. The resulting firestorm prompted YouTube to boot him from a special advertising program, while sponsors backed away. YouTube also he’d worked on with the company. Nearly a year later, he’s ended up with 3 million more subscribers than he had before the fiasco.
(If you’re in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK , or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741.)
, inspiring his army of trollish followers to harass and threaten them. But three episodes in particular stood out.
Musk loves to tweet announcements about Tesla. He’s announced. His and Tesla’s public statements landed him in hot water with the Department of Justice, which is investigating him over statements about , and whether he or Tesla had committed fraud.
Over the summer, 12 boys and a soccer coach were lost, found and rescued from a deadly cave collapse in Thailand. The whole drama, which played out over more than a week, . Musk also prompted a sideshow to the drama, asking his teams at SpaceX, a reusable-rocket company he runs, to help invent a small submarine to get the victims out. It wasn’t used, but Musk took exception to a comment that his submarine was a “.” Musk took to Twitter to call the commenter, among other things, a “pedo guy.” Musk eventually apologized, but then revived the unsubstantiated claim, .
What really got people’s attention though was Musk’s tweet in early August, saying he was “considering” and had enough funds secured to buy the company at $420 per share. (He said he arrived at the number by rounding up from $419 per share, but it’s hard not to see it as .) The Securities and Exchange Commission got involved when , issuing a subpoena as it investigated whether Musk had “intentionally misled investors.” In September, , paying a combined $40 million fine. Musk also agreed to step down as chairman of Tesla, appoint two new independent directors to the company’s board and create a committee of independent directors to oversee Musk’s communications (i.e. his tweets).
Uber’s fatal self-driving crash
For the first time, a self-driving car in full autonomous mode struck and killed a pedestrian. Uber was testing the vehicle in Tempe, Arizona, at 10 p.m. on a Sunday in March when, traveling at 38 mph, it as she was walking her bike across a dark street.
After preliminary investigations by Uber, Arizona police, the National Transportation Safety Board and the US Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, it was initially concluded that Uber had disabled emergency braking maneuvers in the vehicle.
Uber at the time of the crash and has yet to reinstate testing of its vehicles in full autonomous mode.
The company said in a statement that self-driving cars will “ultimately make transportation safer, more efficient and more affordable,” and that it remains committed to making that future a reality.
So far, though, it appears excitement for self-driving car tech . Meanwhile, the National Transportation Safety Board said Tuesday that Uber’s driver minding the self-driving car from behind the wheel because she was on her phone rather than monitoring road safety.
“Ultimately, it will be the public that accepts or rejects automated driving systems, and the testing of such systems on public roads,” said NTSB chair Robert Sumwalt said in a statement. “Any company’s crash affects the public’s confidence. Anybody’s crash is everybody’s crash.”
Google’s AI gets creepy
In May of 2018, CNET had the exclusive on a next-generation artificial intelligence technology from Google, a program called Duplex. This , down to the verbal tics we all have like “umm” and “uhh.”
Google demonstrated the technology, having the Duplex-enabled Assistant make reservations at a local restaurant, playing recorded examples of the tech, and having the AI tool navigate accents and many other obstacles you’d expect to trip up a computer. At first blush, you might’ve expected some sort of Bond villain to have invented this Duplex. But the controversy was sparked by something our reporter Rich Nieva picked up on in his initial story: Google .
It became a PR headache for what otherwise was going to be a whirlwind announcement about how advanced Google’s AI had become. A few days later, we reported that Google . So, no need to worry if the Terminator’s on the other end of the line, pretending to be your stepmom. Yet.
The mad drama of MoviePass
It sounded too good to be true: A $10 per month subscription that let you watch a movie a day, every day, in most theaters around the US. Considering many tickets cost at least $3 more than that just to see one flick, this was an obvious steal. Well, it turns out MoviePass was built on a gym membership-like business plan, where the people who sign up but don’t use the service subsidize those who do. That seemed to work OK for the first six years it was in business and . But then the company lowered its rates to $10 a month and things went nuts.
More than 150,000 people subscribed in just two days, . But unexpectedly, many of those people aggressively used their benefits, causing the company to change its business plan in public, several times. It ended 2018 by allowing people to watch only three movies a month, .
The whole ordeal became the talk of the internet for the summer, which may’ve hurt MoviePass’ brand. The stock price for Helios and Matheson Analytics, its parent company, crashed from around $1,800 per share at the beginning of 2018 to hovering at around 2 cents a share by the end of the year. In 2019, .
On the plus side, MoviePass pushed other companies, like AMC and Cinemark, to .
What a decade, and we’re not even done yet. We’ll be publishing the 2019 edition of our and misadventures on Friday. In the meantime, if you can’t wait for more 2010s nostalgia, head over to our Decade In Review
page to relive .