Technologizer

This Dumb Year: The 47 Lamest Moments in Tech 2013

Social-networking snafus, unfortunate ads, glitchy products, and much, much more -- if something could go wrong this year, it probably did.

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Mario Tama / Getty Images

New BlackBerry Global Creative Director Alicia Keys joins BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins onstage in New York on January 30, 2013

In tech, dumb moments come in an array of flavors — but some years have definite overarching themes. 2012, for instance, was the year of the apology. And 2013 turned out to be the year that proved human beings shouldn’t be allowed to use Twitter.

Or at least it kept feeling that way. Everybody kept tweeting stuff they probably came to regret. Celebrities such as BlackBerry Global Creative Director Alicia Keys, whose only mistake was tweeting from an iPhone (unless, as she said, the tweet came from an iPhone-using hacker). People we never heard of until they embarrassed themselves on Twitter and got fired, including Business Insider’s CTO, IAC’s PR honcho and a producer of The Bachelor. Even beloved American institutions such as AT&T and SpaghettiOs.

As usual, a lot of other dumb things happened this year, too. And that’s O.K.: In its own strange way, the tech industry’s ability to inflict pointless damage on itself and then dust itself off and continue on is an admirable quality. So consider this recap a celebration of sorts — and feel free to use the comments section to account for any moments we forgot.

(As always, thanks to Esquire’s legendary Dubious Achievement Awards and Business 2.0′s 101 Dumbest Moments in Business for inspiring this exercise.)

January

1. Hey, who knows the subject better?

In an experiment with “native advertising,” The Atlantic’s website (briefly) publishes a glowing article about the Church of Scientology…created by the Church of Scientology.

2. Always fire the person in charge of Twitter first.

HMV Tweets

Twitter

U.K. music retailer HMV’s mass firings are live-tweeted by an HMV employee — on the firm’s official Twitter account.

3. And thus the turnaround began.

Troubled smartphone maker BlackBerry — formerly known as Research in Motion — names pop star Alicia Keys as its Global Creative Director.

February

4. The only possible explanation.

When a tweet from newly-appointed BlackBerry Global Creative Director Alicia Keys’ Twitter account appears to have been posted using Twitter for iPhone, she says that she’s been the victim of a hacker attack.

5. Maybe someday technology will allow people to work from anywhere.

In a move she likely didn’t expect to be a major news story, new Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer distributes a memo declaring that all employees formerly permitted to work from home will be required to come in to the office. New mom Mayer juggles work/life issues via a convenience not shared by other Yahoos: an on-site nursery and nanny she pays for herself.

6. War of the words.

After New York Times writer John Broder reports that the Tesla Model S electric car he reviewed couldn’t get between recharging stations without running out of juice, Tesla founder Elon Musk responds with a blog post accusing Broder of rigging his evaluation to make the automobile fail. The dust-up doesn’t leave either party looking particularly good.

March

7. Definitely not copied from Apple.

Samsung Galaxy S4 event

Don Emmert / AFP / Getty Images

Samsung’s Galaxy S4 spectacular

For its Galaxy S 4 launch, Samsung rents Radio City Music Hall and puts on a glitzy, bizarre extravaganza including everything from a full orchestra to a tap-dancing kid to a stilted, sexist skit involving booze-guzzling women ogling a shirtless dude.

8. That does sound like fun.

EA’s SimCity 2013 debuts. It requires players to play online — which makes the game harder to pirate — and at first EA’s servers fail on an epic scale, rendering the game unusable. The company has to disable features to get the game to work, and ends up apologizing by offering disgruntled purchasers one of eight other games for free.

9. Mutual assured dumbness.

During a session at a Silicon Valley tech conference, a female audience member overhears two male attendees joking about “dongles” and “forking.” She takes melodramatic offense on Twitter, where horrible people say vile things about her, and members of Anonymous are inspired to launch a denial-of-service attack on her employer. She and the two jokesters all end up being fired.

10. Funny, nobody got this distraught when Google Wave went away.

As the fifth bullet point in a blog post otherwise devoted to the discontinuation of obscure services, Google announces that it’s shutting down Google Reader, a service which, though declining in popularity, is still widely used. The moment the company says that it’s dead meat, it becomes more beloved than ever.

April

11. You moronic customers, you.

Adam Orth tweet

Twitter

Apparently responding to controversy over the upcoming Xbox One, Microsoft executive Adam Orth mocks those who are concerned about its always-on connection by telling them to “#dealwithit.” Orth leaves Microsoft shortly thereafter, and the company eventually decides to allow the console to operate in disconnected mode.

12. A shining example of the miracle of crowdsourcing — oh, wait.

After the Boston Marathon bombings, Reddit users pool their skills to attempt to pinpoint suspects. They come up with several who aren’t actually guilty — including a missing Brown University student who is later found dead — but fail to identify Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the brothers the police soon conclude are responsible.

May

13. What Twitter was invented for.

In Brazil, Huggies test-markets TweetPee, a diaper accessory that pushes out alerts over social networks when it detects that a baby has wet itself.

14. Who’s on First? Nobody, apparently.

[image] HTC First

Facebook

HTC First, the first Facebook phone

Less than a month after AT&T starts selling the HTC First — the first, and so far only, phone to come preinstalled with Facebook’s much-hyped Facebook Home interface — it knocks the price down from $99 to 99 cents, reportedly after “shockingly” poor sales.

June

15. Great at uncovering other folks’ secrets. Not especially good at keeping its own.

Journalists Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras and Barton Gellman begin publishing reports based on documents leaked by former National Security Agency employee and contractor Edward Snowden. Besides revealing stunning information about the NSA’s digital spying efforts — including tampering with consumer Internet services in ways that leave major tech companies scrambling to explain what happened — Snowden’s data dump shows the agency to have a penchant for bragging about its activities in really ugly PowerPoint slides.

16. More generosity from the world’s most benevolent company.

Comcast builds out a network of Wi-Fi hotspots by piggybacking on the routers installed in its customers’ homes — and says that it’s doing so “at no additional cost.”

17. For this we gave up the possibility of Wedding Crashers II?

[image] The Internship

20th Century Fox

Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn in The Internship

Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson star in The Internship, a comedy set at Google, although filmed mostly in Georgia. It’s neither a great ad for Google nor a great Vince Vaughn-Owen Wilson movie.

18. Those catastrophic fire victims are a shifty lot.

DirecTV apologizes after a customer service rep tells a Colorado man whose house had burned to the ground that he owed the company $400 for a satellite dish and two receivers lost in the fire.

July

19. A smart option for the bottomless-pockets crowd.

T-Mobile

T-Mobile

AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon introduce plans aimed at people who like to upgrade their smartphones frequently. The details differ, but they all involve additional fees and convoluted rules, and none of them actually make constant upgrading into a fiscally rational habit.

20. Are you telling me they weren’t flattered?

Twitter apologizes for using the usernames of real users without permission, in fake tweets created to show how advertisers can pay to promote their products.

21. Sorry, no cheap “weiner” joke in this headline.

Anthony Weiner’s campaign for mayor of New York City is undone by the discovery that he continued using social networks to send explicit photos of himself to women — sometimes under the pseudonym “Carlos Danger” — long after doing so on Twitter forced him to resign from Congress in 2011.

August

22. Hey, a movie with two visionary geniuses would have had no dramatic tension.

Josh Gad and Ashton Kutcher

Open Road Films

Josh Gad and Ashton Kutcher as Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs in Jobs

Jobs, starring Ashton Kutcher as Steve Jobs, is released nationwide. The movie depicts Steve Wozniak — in real life, one of the first people to realize that eventually everyone would want a personal computer — as failing to understand why anyone would want a personal computer.

23. Insert your own “you’ve got unemployment” gag.

At a staff meeting for employees of its Patch local-news sites, AOL CEO Tim Armstrong fires Creative Director Abel Lenz on the spot for taking a photo. Armstrong later apologizes, but doesn’t rescind the termination.

September

24. Because engineers make the best artists.

Yahoo logo

Yahoo

After a month of using a different logo every day, Yahoo dumps the one it’s used in largely the same form since 1994 in favor of one designed in part by CEO Marissa Mayer. In her Tumblr post on the new look, she says that mathematical consistency was an overarching concern and notes that the exclamation point tilts at an eight-degree angle.

25. Business outsider.

Pax Dickinson, CTO of news site Business Insider, leaves the company shortly after controversy erupts over his tweets, some of which seem to be racist, misogynist and/or just plain obnoxious.

26. What’s the matter, not dignified enough for you?

AT&T tweet

Twitter

AT&T marks the twelfth anniversary of 9/11 with a tweet showing a smartphone taking a picture of the World Trade Center site. Shockingly, the company ends up deleting it and apologizing.

27. New BlackBerry strategy: multiple-platform meltdown.

Shortly after rolling out long-ballyhooed iOS and Android versions of BlackBerry Messenger, BlackBerry pulls them from their respective app stores, blaming troubles caused by a leaked Android version. They return a month later.

28. Not even going to try to craft a silly headline about this.

Facebook apologizes after ads show up on its site promoting a Canadian dating site with a picture of a teenager who committed suicide after a photo of her rape was distributed online.

29. Great moments in event scheduling.

Oracle CEO Larry Ellison’s keynote speech at the Oracle Open World conference in San Francisco is set to take place at the same time as an America’s Cup sailboat race that Oracle Team USA must win to stay in contention against New Zealand. Guess which appointment he keeps?

30. Microsoft goes negative. On itself.

Microsoft ad

YouTube

Microsoft releases a web ad attacking the new iPhones, apparently set at Apple and inexplicably depicting — from the back — an executive with an uncomfortable resemblance to Steve Jobs. The company almost immediately yanks it, calling it “off the mark.”

October

31. That’s just sick.

The government’s Healthcare.gov insurance exchange website launches — and at first, it functions about as poorly as it’s possible for a website to function. Only 27,000 people manage to use it to sign up for insurance in October.

32. Nice work, omnipotent international criminal genius.
Federal authorities arrest Ross Ulbricht in San Francisco, charging him with being “Dread Pirate Roberts,” the mastermind of illegal-goods marketplace the Silk Road. Ulbricht, supposedly responsible for processing $1.2 billion in contraband sales via Bitcoin, is alleged to have helpfully kept meticulous records on his site’s business operations. Reportedly, he’s also been duped by the FBI, which says that it faked a murder Ulbricht is charged with, having hired what he thought was a hitman to carry it out.

33. Clueless users fail to appreciate new Yahoo Mail.

Yahoo Mail

Yahoo

Yahoo rolls out a new version of its webmail client and says it hopes that users find it “inspiring.” Many are inspired to complain about features removed from the previous version — such as tabs and the ability to sort by sender — as well as bugs and missing messages.

34. Maybe they oughta switch to Yahoo Mail.

OS X 10.9 Mavericks, Apple’s new Mac operating system, makes changes to how the Mail application works with Gmail. Among other things, they can lead to the app downloading all your Gmail messages even if they’re already stored locally. Users go berserk until Apple releases a fix.

35. Shortage of engineering talent leads to major PC manufacturer hiring totally unqualified candidate.

Ashton Kutcher

ChinaFotoPress

Ashton Kutcher with Lenovo CEO Yang Yuanqing

Lenovo announces that it’s appointed Ashton Kutcher as its newest product engineer, giving him input into design, specifications and marketing of future computers.

36. The scent of quality.

After users complain that their Dell laptops smell like cat pee, Dell acknowledges the unusual odor but says that it stems from a manufacturing process and isn’t actually cat urine.

37. Of course, if your Wi-Fi is busted you can’t visit Apple’s forums anyhow.

Upon release of Apple’s iOS 7 — in an eerie rerun of an iOS 6 problem — some users complain that it disables their devices’ Wi-Fi connections. When academic and copyright activist Lawrence Lessig squawks about the glitch on Apple’s support forum, his message is deleted — and an Apple representative tells him that discussion of the matter is verboten.

38. Apple paranoia strikes deep.

In the New York Times Magazine, economics reporter Catherine Rampell theorizes that Apple may be designing iPhones with the specific goal of causing them to become unusable at exactly the same time that the company releases a new model. Her evidence includes suspicious stuff like the fact that batteries wear out over time.

39. Paging Catherine Rampell.

Google says that its own Galaxy Nexus phone, just 18 months old, won’t be upgradable to Android 4.4 KitKat — an operating system specifically designed to run on less powerful phones.

November

40. The fine art of self-humiliation.

JP Morgan Chase & Co. solicits questions for one of its executives on Twitter. The ones it gets, riffing on the bank’s role in the financial crisis, include “As a young sociopath, how can I succeed in finance?,” “Can I have my house back?” and “Do you have any self awareness?”

December

41. Just as reality-based as The Bachelor.

Elan Gale

Twitter

On board an airplane flight, Elan Gale, a producer of The Bachelor, live-tweets his spat with an angry, self-centered passenger named Diane. The web deems it to be hilarious and rushes to cover it without bothering with fact-checking, and doesn’t seem to be all that perturbed when it turns out the whole thing was a hoax.

42. Another day that will live in infamy.

Spaghetti-os

Twitter

Canned-pasta kingpin SpaghettiOs apologizes for marking the 72nd anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack with a drawing of an anthropomorphic SpaghettiO brandishing an American flag.

43. The food is terrible here. And such small portions, too!

Yahoo Mail, still contending with irritation over its redesign, suffers an outage that lasts for days for some users. Marissa Mayer issues an apology five days after the trouble commences.

44. “Target” indeed.

Retailing behemoth Target discloses that up to 40 million shoppers who used credit or debit cards at its stores between November 27 and December 15 may have had their names and card information stolen. It remains unclear how anyone was able to pull off such a heist on such a grand scale.

45. PR mastery at its least masterful.

Justine Sacco tweet

Twitter

IAC public relations executive Justine Sacco tweets what seems to be a grossly inappropriate gag about AIDS among black people in Africa, then hops on a long flight to South Africa. While she’s disconnected from Twitter, the outrage seethes and a hashtag — #hasjustinelandedyet — is born.

46. How much of this can we blame on Global Creative Director Alicia Keys?

BlackBerry has a bad quarter even by BlackBerry standards, posting a loss of $4.4 billion. Eleven months after releasing its first BlackBerry 10 phones, it’s having trouble convincing people to buy them — and to stop buying handsets based on the supposedly defunct BlackBerry 7 operating system, which still account for almost two-thirds of its sales.

47. Duck dysfunction.

Twitter apologizes after accidentally marking a site created in support of Duck Dynasty‘s loudmouthed patriarch Phil Robertson as “spammy and unsafe” and preventing users from linking to it. Robertson supporters, not so surprisingly, are skeptical that the ban was accidental.

9 comments
master.fly.smoove
master.fly.smoove

you forgot to mention a certain smartphone manufacturer hiring people to frequent popular forums and comment sections to either troll or extoll the virtues of their product. Classic.

LurkingGrue
LurkingGrue

What? No Robert Scoble's Google Glass picture in the shower?  

SkeletonGrrl
SkeletonGrrl

Hi TIME magazine + contributors! Kindly layoff the ableist language! It would be greatly appreciated. 

asdqweasdqwe
asdqweasdqwe

I actually liked the S4 event, I wish more tech events were like that!


When they later put it on youtube, I showed it to a few non-techy people and I think most of them liked the way Samsung showed how different functions in the phone could be used -  instead of just throwing numbers and superlatives and a lot of technical terms that no one understand in your face.

fudspong
fudspong

You could have finished the year with the myer.com.au website issues. The biggest retailer in Australia having the biggest sale of the year and their website has been down since Christmas. Epic fail.

RobertMullins
RobertMullins

Harry, you forgot about the "Titstare" app created at TechCrunch Disrupt in San Francisco in September. It's an app of photos of people staring at women's breasts. Deemed inappropriate and misogynistic by many, some complaints mentioned that some children were in the audience. My point was just the opposite -- that there were ADULTS in the audience.

Aeropage135
Aeropage135

@SkeletonGrrl What?  I neither recall nor see upon review anything negative toward disabilities.  Can you cite specifically?