Last year around this time we looked back at some memorable technology blunders of the previous 12 months. The tradition seems worth repeating. So let us once again take a few moments in between thoughtful forward-looking commentary and counting down the days until vacation to remember the tech stumbles of the year past.
LinkedIn password hack (and all the others)
In June of this year, professional networking site LinkedIn saw over 6 million user passwords leaked to the Internet. But they weren't alone. Other victims of password leaks in 2012 included eHarmony, Yahoo Voices, Formspring, and even Dropbox. The LinkedIn case was particularly egregious because the company stored user data using only weak security measures, which hackers were able to circumvent using well-known hash reversal techniques. But all of them are guilty of poorly securing their own customers' data, which is especially damning for companies that directly occupy the tech space.
Research in Motion, the formerly high-flying company behind BlackBerry, is rapidly becoming a case study in how to go from hero to zero in the blink of a calendar. Two years ago, RIM stock traded at nearly $60 a share. Today it is lucky to hold onto double-digits. In 2009, BlackBerry held 50 percent of the smartphone market. By this year that number shrunk to 6 percent. So, with the company's very life on the line with the early 2013 release of the BlackBerry 10, the last thing they needed was a four-day long global service outage in early October of this year. The outage was supposedly initiated by a router failure in the UK, which cascaded into failures worldwide. These types of domino-effect failures raise serious questions about network architecture, where nodal failures should be expected to happen and designed around. At this point, RIM doesn't need to sow any more doubt among either investors or customers. Then again, the global outage wasn't even RIM's first for 2012. The service also suffered a partial outage earlier in September.
Windows 8 Start Screen
Admittedly a more subjective nomination, the Windows 8 Start Screen is Microsoft's replacement for the venerable Start Menu introduced in 1995 with Windows 95. Windows 8 is designed to support both conventional keyboard-and-mouse PCs and the growing segment of touchscreen devices like tablets and smartphones. But since the two user experiences are drastically different, Windows 8 tries to address the needs of both, which is how we got the Windows 8 Start Screen. Seemingly designed for the user profile of someone who has never touched a computer before, the new start screen jarringly removes traditional Windows users from their familiar and more sophisticated desktop environment and replaces it with an interface suitable for infants and laboratory chimps. Of course, many people say it is more user friendly and a nice design to combine mobile and desktop interfaces into a seamless experience. And, yes, there are ways around the problem but that doesn't earn Microsoft a pass in my opinion.
The Petraeus affair
General David Petraeus is not a company, but as the former head of "The Company," also known as the CIA, his downfall offers instructive lessons for anyone or any organization needing to protect private information. For example, look at what can happen when someone else is entrusted with sensitive data. By sharing a secret Gmail account with his biographer and extramarital paramour Paula Broadwell, both of their secrets were outed when Broadwell failed to cover her own digital footprints. The Petraeus-Broadwell security protocol also demonstrated that hiding messages in an email drafts folder is about as effective as stashing a copy of your house key under the planter. While the moral issues behind the scandal are ultimately personal matters, every business can benefit from re-evaluating how private information flows through the organization.
Enough said, almost. By now, everyone with a pulse knows all about Apple's faceplant with the release of their self-produced Apps map that replaces the generally well-liked Google Apps in iOS 6 for the iPhone and iPad. Yes, considerable portions of the map data are incomplete and inaccurate, the app is ignorant of many landmarks and locations, and it has been to known to render views of a world which appears to have been struck by asteroids. But the real reason that Apple Maps is the biggest tech goof of 2012 is because of how its release reveals an ugly contempt for Apple's customers -- the very people for whom the "Apple experience" has practically become a thing of worship. All software has bugs and takes time to evolve, but there is no doubt that Apple Maps fell far short of release standards. And yet it was released, probably because of Apple's axe to grind against Google's competing Android OS. Eventually, Apple Maps will improve and people may forget about its initial shoddiness. Regardless, the Apple Maps blunder demonstrates that the company will, in fact, throw their customers' "experience" under the bus if that's what it takes to twist the knife in the back of a rival.
Of course, companies are made up of people and no one is perfect, so this is just the tip of the iceberg. What were some of your favorite tech goofs of 2012? And what companies do you think are candidates for early 2013? Comment below.