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We all thought 2020 was the pinnacle of awfulness, with a pandemic sweeping the globe, race relations boiling over and misinformation spreading unchecked.
Then 2021 showed up and said, “Hold my beer.”
A lot of the problems we experienced in 2020, from misinformation to ransomware to QAnon, took it up a notch this year. While 2020 was a steady drip of terrible news, this year was arguably worse because the brief glimpses of hope we did get — vaccines! — were snatched away — delta variant — leaving us with more uncertainty. The head-fake was devastating.
2021 kicked off with a real low point as a mob, , attacked the US Capitol as members of Congress gathered there to certify the results of Joe Biden’s election win.
Things just kept getting worse.
The following is a list of the biggest tech fails of 2021, starting with the worst.
Misinformation everywhere (again)
You may be getting some deja vu from 2020’s list. Misinformation was a massive problem last year, and continued to be so in 2021. Whether it was dangerous and utterly false conspiracy theories about vaccine risks or the rise of QAnon, it’s gotten harder to discriminate between what’s real and what’s fake. (QAnon followers are still waiting for long dead , by the way.)
The amount of anti-vaccine misinformation has led to vaccination rates stalling, driving up case loads and sending more people to the ICU.
Much of the blame falls to social media like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, where conspiracy theories, false claims and misinformation flew fast and furiously. And it all began early. With New Year’s Day barely behind us, false claims about election fraud — barely contained (again) by social media — drove us to the next item…
Trump’s speech wasn’t the only catalyst that drove the angry mob to descend upon the Capitol, a violent act that resulted in five deaths. He used Twitter and Facebook to push baseless claims that the election was stolen. Talk of revolution exploded on conservative social media sites such as Parler, .
It wasn’t long before conspiracy theories about the mob attack, , proliferated on Facebook, Twitter and Parler (before the plug was pulled).
The incident led to Facebook and Twitter banning Trump from their platforms. At that point, however, the damage was done.
Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, meanwhile, took flak for saying the ” on her company’s platform.
Which is a nice segue to our next item.
Facebook (ahem, Meta)
Sandberg pushing back against any involvement with the riots was just the tip of an iceberg of terrible for Facebook. Criticism has skyrocketed over the last year, from concern over its (which the ) to damning allegations from whistleblower Frances Haugen that filled with hate and misinformation.
Facebook’s own oversight board, set up as a check on the company, said the tech giant has , and Facebook itself said it can’t .
Its slow reaction to the spread of vaccine misinformation led President Joe Biden to say that the ,” though he later walked back that statement.
Amid all of the controversy, including a raft of reports based on the leaked Facebook Papers documents from Haugen, the company held its annual virtual reality conference, at which it The prerecorded event, which talked about the potential of a new metaverse, felt tone deaf in light of the headlines about the company.
A supply chain crisis
Remember when we all at the ? The little hiccup was just a sliver of the more massive supply chain crisis that has caused shortages in everything from PlayStation 5 consoles to tennis balls.
The result: delays in getting certain products, if you can find them at all, and everyone becoming an expert in the global distribution system. The supply chain has long worked on a delicate balance of supply and demand, and the coronavirus that’ll have us feeling the effects through 2022.
It also means than ever amid fears of shipping delays. (Here’s a guide to surviving the .) It’s gotten so bad that automakers have had to halt because of of lower-end chips that power much of the electronics in vehicles.
Activision Blizzard’s ‘frat boy’ culture
Perhaps the only thing as bad as the revelation of the , with reports of everything from sexual discrimination to rape, has been the boneheaded response by its leadership.
Many problems came to light after California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing filed suit against the company, alleging a frat boy culture that treated women unfairly and subjected them to considerable harassment.
Rather than own up to the allegations, Activision Blizzard pushed back through a staff email sent out by Frances Townsend, vice president of corporate affairs. It turns out the letter was drafted by CEO Bobby Kotick, who was but failed to do anything about them.
Now employees and shareholders are asking Kotick to resign, and Activision’s.
If you can get the big three console makers, who don’t agree on anything, unified against you, something really wrong has happened.
Internet outages happen, but it felt like 2021 saw more widespread downtime than ever before.
There was in June, when the cloud computing service provider suffered a glitch that seemingly shut down half the internet, knocking out key providers like Amazon. Fastly stores copies of key sites around the world for faster loading times, and when it went down, there was a global domino effect that impacted everyone from The New York Times to CNET.
Facebook’s bad year continued in October when it suffered its own outage thanks to a its data centers from its various social networks. While taking a break from social media sounds great, many businesses and regions of the world rely on Facebook for internet access, so for them the downtime was more painful than just annoying.
Not to be outdone, fellow Big Tech player Google in April suffered its own hours-long outage for .
Endless congressional hearings
It’s great to see , but the political grandstanding at this year’s numerous hearings was more about scoring points than actually getting something done. It’s time to get some regulations in place. Even the tech companies are in agreement about this.
More Big Tech fails
The criticism of some of the biggest tech companies didn’t just come from politicians. Some of their own employees took issue with their practices.
- Apple faced pushback from its own employees in a . Their aim was to change the culture of secrecy that inadvertently also fostered claims of everything from sexual harassment to pay discrimination.
- While Apple’s intentions were good when it decided , it faced criticism over the privacy implications. Apple , which in turn dismayed child advocacy groups. It was a no-win situation.
- Google faced criticism for its , especially after a senior executive was able to move to New Zealand despite other employees being required to go back to the office.
- And then there’s Amazon, which decided to with a mix of snark and unearned bravado. It also inadvertently brought to light that Amazon delivery drivers do indeed urinate in bottles (contradicting Amazon’s tweet).
- In late November, a federal labor official said that at an Alabama warehouse. The ruling included an order that a new election be held.
- More than a third of women in the tech industry are planning to leave their jobs in the next two years, according to a . While the pandemic is a factor, the survey found that gender inequality in the workplace has had an impact on their career trajectory.
The GameStop saga was one of the wilder stories of early 2021. But one detail that likely still stings for investors is Robinhood as the stock began to wildly swing. It was a pivotal time, and the move was seen as a way to protect hedge funds that stood to lose a fortune as shares continued to rocket.
The move angered Robinhood users, raised questions from regulators and triggered a congressional hearing.
Months later, in November, Robinhood experienced a and 2 million full names.
But people are still bitter about those restricted trades.
Speaking of cybersecurity problems, one of the biggest came when that shut down its operations. The company made the decision to pay the $4.4 million ransom a day after discovering the malware.
The incident, which affected the supply of gas to parts of the East Coast, leading to lines at gas stations as people hoarded fuel, served as a colorful illustration of just how vulnerable some of our core systems are.
T-Mobile data gets breached… again
In August, T-Mobile that exposed the personal data of more than 54 million people, including names and Social Security numbers.
That’s bad enough, but it’s worse considering this is the company’s . T-Mobile CEO Mike Sievert and hired a cybersecurity company and consultancy to shore up its defenses. Consumers shouldn’t have to consider whether they’ll have their info leaked as a factor when choosing a wireless carrier.
Flight delays (Southwest)
The number of flight delays and cancellations rose this year, but it was never clearer than one weekend in October when Southwest Airlines .
What’s worse, people on social media speculated that the disruption was due to pilots or air traffic controllers protesting COVID-19 vaccine mandates. (They weren’t.) The delays were largely due to weather disruptions and staffing issues for both Southwest and the Federal Aviation Administration at Florida airports. Southwest Airlines President and Chief Operating Officer Mike Van de Ven .
Gambling with cryptocurrency
Cryptocurrency like bitcoin holds a lot of promise as a disruptive form of currency. But it remains little more than a commodity, with lesser known cryptocurrencies like dogecoin moving on the whims and tweets of Elon Musk.
Speaking of Musk, the world’s wealthiest man had a heck of a strange year. Just last month, he took a few shots at Sanders, the Vermont senator, and , leading to Tesla shares tumbling. He opted to follow up with an ill-advised tweet about a .
Tesla’s Full Self Driving rollout
The fails don’t stop with Musk himself. Tesla’s long-promised is upon us. Er, sorta. For years, Tesla buyers have been shelling out thousands of extra dollars for the promise of a self-driving car. Despite nearly every other automaker and tech company saying autonomy isn’t possible with Tesla’s hardware, Musk’s company has made millions of dollars from the option, spoton-vietnam predicated on the promise that an over-the-air update would one day deliver Full Self Driving, including the potential for .
In July, Tesla to select Tesla owners who requested the upgrade, a process that initially involved and submitting to an automated Safety Score driver’s test (the latter being something ). It didn’t take long for reports to pour in from owners and the media that the FSD experience was riddled with safety issues, from phantom braking events to ill-timed steering maneuvers and routine computer vision failures. A string of followed,
We’ll say it again for the people in the back: There are no self-driving cars on sale today. Tesla’s FSD is a , and it’s a deeply flawed one at that.
That weird Tesla steering yoke on the latest Model S?.
Trump’s Truth Social
Trump made some minor waves with his announcement that he was launching a new . He said its goal was to push back against Big Tech, which doesn’t seem like a winning formula for success.
It was and still isn’t live.
Grand Theft Auto Definitive Edition
Given all of the problems at Activision Blizzard (and Ubisoft from last year), a botched launch of a video game seems positively quaint.
But that’s what we have with Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy: The Definitive Edition. (Its long title could be its own entry.) Grand Theft Auto 3, Vice City and San Andreas were supposed to come with a high-definition makeover. Instead, and the telltale signs of a title that was rushed out prematurely.
The error-prone game forced Rockstar Games to apologize and relist the individual titles for sale while it worked to fix the errors.
In late March, on an accidentally published press and a (since deleted) press release announced the name change, a move Wall Street rewarded with a 5% stock price rise. But it was all a lie, a PR stunt to gain mindshare for VW’s new .
VW eventually acknowledged the prank, and a spokesperson apologized to Roadshow and other outlets for lying. The ill-conceived PR hoax not only badly damaged VW’s longstanding media relationships, it left a bad taste in the public’s mouth, especially after VW’s . The fiasco even triggered an into how “Voltswagen” affected VW’s stock price and to see whether securities laws were violated.
LG EV battery fires
There’s never a good time for a recall, but there are worse times. The recalls that affected General Motors and Hyundai EVs due to LG battery-fire concerns fall squarely into the latter category — not only for the South Korean battery giant and the carmakers involved, but for the auto industry at large. The resulting series of — including Chevrolet’s plea for owners to for affected and — didn’t just damage the reputations of those involved, the debacle harmed the public’s emerging perception of electric cars. This, just as the entire car industry’s costly shift to EV was beginning to gain traction.
Those fires weren’t just damaging reputationally. GM will replace the packs in 140,000 2017-2022 Bolts at a cost of . In fact, the total will probably be much more — in October, LG . For its part, Hyundai of its worldwide, along with other models like the , although the Korean automaker’s cost recoup figures from LG are unclear.
On the plus side, owners of affected vehicles who stick out this unpleasantness could be set for a windfall — some of the replacement battery packs .
The billionaire space race
While reaching for the stars is a noble goal, the race among billionaires Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk and Richard Branson to be the first to get to space (Bezos and Branson, in particular) prompts the question: Why couldn’t you have spent those billions helping people down here on Earth?
5G still meh
5G was supposed to be a life-changing technological leap. It continues to be modestly faster (or, at times, slower) than 4G and really not as impactful as hyped. Maybe in 2022?
Twitter’s premium service will let you undo that embarrassing tweet for $3 a month. Shouldn’t that feature just be built in to Twitter?
LG leaves the phone business
This is less a fail and more a bummer. LG had a gaggle of interesting phones, and its LG Rollable device, teased at CES, was extremely intriguing. But the company just a few months later in April.
WTF are NFTs?
No really, do you understand they are?
Chris Paukert contributed to this article.