Biggest Tech Blunders of 2005
FARAI CHIDEYA, host:
This is DAY TO DAY from NPR News. I'm Farai Chideya.
Technology delivered plenty to rave about in 2005: new inventions, new applications and at least 50 new versions of the iPod. But along with the high points, there were some serious lows. Here to review some of the most shameful tech moments this year is DAY TO DAY technology contributor Xeni Jardin.
XENI JARDIN reporting:
CHIDEYA: So you've got quite a hall of shame here involving companies most of us know. Let's start with record label Sony BMG. Bloggers caught it red-handed trying to spy on legitimate music buyers. Is that correct?
JARDIN: That's correct, and this was the year the word `root kit' entered the music lover's lexicon. Basically to try and prevent users from copying music and releasing it on the Internet, Sony automatically and secretly installed this software on users' computers that compromised their privacy and exposed them to security risks. You know, critics claim that Sony lied about the number of infected CDs that it shipped, then the company took its sweet time releasing an uninstaller and admitting the problem. Then the installer didn't really work, and then Sony waited even longer to take the affected CDs off the shelves. And to top it all off, some blogs reported this week that some Sony stores were still selling the infected CDs because, as one manger put it, quote, "They're still allowed to sell them."
CHIDEYA: Well, this was also the year Yahoo! helped put a journalist in jail.
JARDIN: Yeah. On a much more serious note here, human rights groups found out that the Internet portal helped the Chinese government identify a dissident reporter. He used what he thought was an anonymous Yahoo! e-mail address to forward information about government censorship to a Web site based in New York City. But with a little help from Yahoo!, this 37-year-old journalist, whose name was Shi Tao, was arrested and then sentenced to 10 years in jail, essentially for the crime of reporting news.
CHIDEYA: But wait, there's yet more retaliation for unflattering reportage. In this country, Apple Computer sued bloggers this year. What's that about?
JARDIN: They did. They sued a Mac fan site called Think Secret for publishing news about Apple product announcements before Apple was ready to have that news released. And the company's lawyers also subpoenaed two other enthusiast blogs, demanding that they reveal their confidential sources. In court, Apple lawyers argued that bloggers don't have the right to protect anonymous sources because bloggers aren't journalists. A county judge in Northern California took that argument one step further, saying that even conventional reporters shouldn't be allowed to scoop corporate secrets, but the decision is under appeal.
CHIDEYA: Here's a story that reaches into lots of our lives. This was the year of confidential data leaks from companies we thought were protecting our personal information.
JARDIN: That's right. I mean, banks, credit card companies, even shoe retailers were in on the biggest year yet for crimes related to personal data. Bank of America, Citibank, Time Warner, ChoicePoint--all of those companies experienced massive loss of customer data or reported criminal intrusions into their data banks. It's particularly upsetting because, you know, knowing that you can't trust strangers online, that's one thing. But when your bank tells you, `We'll protect your information,' and then they fail to, that's different.
CHIDEYA: And rounding out our survey, a big setback for human stem cell research.
JARDIN: That's right. The scandal that's brewing in South Korea has a lot of people running to distance themselves at this one lab in Seoul National University. One of the most prominent scientists there--his name is Hwang Woo-suk--claimed in May that he'd successfully cloned 11 embryonic stem cell lines. And this looked like huge news. Scientists hope that one day they'll be able to grow replacement tissue for patients with spinal cord damage or failing organs. But just months after the journal Science published Hwang's findings, investigations revealed that some egg donors had been paid, and others had come from the scientist's staff, which is, you know, a potential conflict of interest. This month, the research paper's co-author accused Hwang of faking most of his results. The scientist has resigned from the university and entered the hospital for stress.
CHIDEYA: Sounds more like a scientific breakdown than a scientific breakthrough. Xeni, here's wishing you and all of us better news on the tech front in 2006. Thanks so much for joining us.
JARDIN: And a happier new year to you, Farai.
CHIDEYA: Xeni Jardin is DAY TO DAY's tech contributor and co-editor of the Weblog BoingBoing.net.