2016 Year in Review : Technology Business and Failures
From algorithms that spread fake news to glowing plants that don’t glow and Microsoft acquisition of LinkedIn here are our picks for the event that shape 2016 Technology Industry and worst technologies of the year.
Samsung Galaxy Note 7 fires, recall and cancellation
After months of twists and turns since September 2016, the Galaxy Note 7 story has (effectively) come to an end. The core of the situation is that Samsung faced a serious issue with Galaxy Note 7 phones that have a high propensity of batteries failing and in many cases catching on fire, leading to personal and property damage. In the original, pre-recall Note 7, hundreds of phones worldwide had critical failures.
Following initial reports of fires the phone was recalled officially in the U.S. once, and Samsung launched exchange programs in other countries. But the new models continued to see further issues, with replacement catching on fire in early October. This led to Samsung telling Note 7 owners to stop using the phones and return them, before permanently discontinuing the Note 7 worldwide. Shortly thereafter, the U.S. CPSC officially issued a second recall. The Note 7 is well and truly finished.
Microsoft Closes Acquisition of LinkedIn
After getting its final European Commission approvals , Microsoft and LinkedIn announced that Microsoft’s $26.2 billion acquisition of LinkedIn, the social networking site, has officially closed. The news comes six months after news first broke of the deal.
In an internal memo, LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner went through the areas where the two companies would be working together, and how they will in other ways remain independent.
LinkedIn today has over 400 million registered users, making it the largest social networking site focused on the working world. People use the service both to make work connections with other people in their fields, but also to look for jobs and hire people. The fact that LinkedIn essentially has a dominant position in this area meant that Microsoft had to make concessions to the EC about how it would work to allow other social networking sites to integrate on its platforms.
The AT&T-Time Warner Merger
Telecom giant AT&T reached an $85.4 billion deal to buy media titan Time Warner. The news of this transformational merger shaken up both industries, raising eyebrows on Wall Street and drawing criticism from lawmakers and even the presidential campaigns.
The deal expected to face stringent scrutiny from regulators: the Department of Justice, which considers antitrust laws, and potentially also the Federal Communications Commission, which broadly weighs whether deals are in the public interest. (The FCC’s involvement depends on whether the deal ends up involving broadcast licenses.)
The companies underscore that their deal would combine two entities that don’t directly compete in a so-called vertical merger. AT&T is the second-largest wireless carrier, one of the top broadband providers and — thanks to its recent purchase of DirecTV — also a major pay-TV provider. Time Warner (not to be confused with Time Warner Cable, which was recently bought by Charter Communications) is a massive media and entertainment conglomerate, owner of CNN, HBO, Warner Bros. studio and other assets.
A merger of two noncompeting companies — a content distributor and a content supplier — may not face a public interest test, says New Street Research analyst Vivek Stalam. “So you don’t necessarily need to prove that it’s absolutely good for the public interest, you just have to prove that it’s not bad.”
But that’s the top question on many consumers’ minds: What does this merger mean for me? Below are some of the proposed deal’s pros and cons.
The glowing plant that didn’t glow
It seemed like a breakout moment for do-it-yourself biology. A super-successful Kickstarter campaign raised nearly $500,000 to genetically engineer a house plant able to luminesce in the dark.
The glowing plant quickly became a symbol of the big dreams of biohackers. But it turns out that engineering life isn’t so easy. This year, we learned that there is still no glowing plant and no money left to repay the project’s more than 5,000 backers, most of whom paid Kickstarter $40 or more. Now the glowing plant is a symbol of false promises.
The world’s most expensive medicine
The most expensive drug on the planet is Glybera. It’s famous for being the first gene therapy ever approved in Europe and for its eye-popping price tag of $1 million.
But what we learned this year is that the drug, for a rare metabolic condition, has only ever been given once, due to concerns over its cost and how well it works. Instead of being a history-making start to the era of DNA replacement, Glybera is a complete bust for its creator, the gene-therapy startup called UniQure.
Lumosity brain games
Ever see those TV ads for “brain-training” games that will make you smarter? A San Francisco company, Lumos Labs, aggressively marketed online quizzes and memory tests under the brand Lumosity and said users would perform better in school and even postpone dementia.
This October, a team of psychologists reviewing hundreds of studies concluded that brain games don’t make you smarter. By then, Lumos had already been fined $2 million by the Federal Trade Commission for false advertising. “Lumosity preyed on consumers’ fears about age-related cognitive decline,” said the FTC. “But Lumosity simply did not have the science to back up its ads.”
Tay, the rogue chatbot
“helooooooo world!!!” One Wednesday in March, Microsoft unveiled Tay, a female chatbot with its own Twitter account. Microsoft described Tay as a “machine learning project, designed for human engagement” which would converse with 18- to 24-year-olds, learn from them, and get smarter with time.
Within 24 hours, however, Tay was bragging about smoking drugs, asking for sex, and opining that “Hitler was right …” and “feminists should … burn in hell.” Peter Lee, head of Microsoft Research, decommissioned the chatbot the next day. “We are deeply sorry for the unintended offensive and hurtful tweets from Tay,” said Lee. “Tay is now offline.”
Facebook’s News Feed
“Pope Francis Shocks World, Endorses Donald Trump for President, Releases Statement.” That never happened. Yet this headline was among a tsunami of falsehoods spread on Facebook, the 1.7 billion-member social network.
CEO Mark Zuckerberg denies Facebook is a media company or that it can influence global events like elections, an idea he called “pretty crazy” (even though Facebook also sells political ads).
But the public sees it differently. President Obama called fake news an existential threat to our “democratic freedoms” and “prosperity.”
Apple’s latest ads for its smart watch have rap music, dancing, and running in the rain. What they don’t say is what Apple Watch actually does. The answer by now is plain: not nearly enough to make it as popular or profitable as smartphones. During 2016, sales of the Apple Watch were anemic, according to IDC. Competitors started giving up, too: Motorola put off further releases of its Moto360 watch “indefinitely” and category pioneer Pebble
Competitors started giving up, too: Motorola put off further releases of its Moto360 watch “indefinitely” and category pioneer Pebble said in December it would stop “promoting, manufacturing, or selling” its watches, too. One reviewer at Engadget summed up his feelings about the Apple Watch: “I mean, I’d never wear one.”
Volkswagen’s “defeat device”
Volkswagen created what may be the most expensive few lines of code ever written. The software, called a “defeat device” and cooked up by the German automaker to fool U.S. emissions testers, concealed that its diesel cars emit as much as 40 times the allowed pollution.
Even though the scandal broke in 2015, the cost to Volkswagen of their “innovation” is only now becoming clear. In June, the German automaker agreed to pay $14.7 billion to cover legal penalties and the cost of replacing or fixing 475,000 automobiles in the U.S.