Could it have been any worse?
For every awesome gadget and mind-blowing AI breakthrough we got in 2018, there was a busted product, slimy scandal or dangerous data breach that made us wish we'd just go analog.
Spoiler alert: Facebook takes top honors on our list of fails this year, due to a string of controversies and privacy blunders that even had some of us deleting our accounts.
But we also saw plenty of other mishaps big and small from across the tech sphere, from Amazon crashing on Prime Day and Google+ biting the bullet to disappointing gaming duds like the PlayStation Classic and Fallout 76. Here are the biggest — and worst — tech fails of 2018.
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Fallout 76 Is a Big Flop
Fallout 76 had all the signs of becoming a radioactive hit. Imagine a Fallout game that has multiplayer, base building mechanics and the ability to launch nuclear strikes at your rivals. What we ended up with was an average survival game with a Fallout aesthetic. The rocky launch with bugs bigger than radroaches required a number of major postlaunch updates. The world left folks in a lonely wasteland only populated by a few dozen players with no real story outside a few audio logs and no NPCs or quest givers to chat. The reality of Fallout 76 fell short of the expectation fans had set when it was announced last summer. — Jorge Jimenez
¿Donde esta, AirPower?
Apple first teased AirPower in September 2017 — more than a year ago! — with all signs and portents suggesting the Qi-based wireless charging mat would arrive sometime in early 2018 to let you charge multiple Apple devices at once without any pesky cables cluttering things up. Multiple Apple product launches have happened since then, and each time, AirPower has been noticeably absent. Even more telling, we haven't heard a peep from Apple to even suggest that AirPower is anything more than a vague memory.
So, what's been the problem? With nothing official to go on, it's anybody's guess, but the speculation from Apple watchers is that the charging mat features a multicoil design that gets much too hot, impacting charging rates. Apple could still surprise us with a functioning product in early 2019, or it could slap the name on another charging accessory. But it's a rare misstep from a company that usually doesn't tip its hand about upcoming product until it knows it can deliver the goods. — Philip Michaels
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The Electric Scooter Plague
Scooter startups aim to fill in the gaps for short trips that wouldn't make sense to take in a car or on a bike. Using an app, riders can find nearby scooters and use their phones to unlock them. It's easy, quick — and best of all — cheap. But riders aren't required to dock their scooters; instead, you can leave them pretty much anywhere as long as it's not creating a hazard for others. Piles of scooters are plaguing cities — San Francisco even banned them outright back in June to clear the streets. (Scoot and Skip have since been permitted by the city.)
And hospital emergency rooms in major metropolitan areas have seen an uptick in scooter-related injuries since scooters began flooding the streets.
But are scooters here to stay? With Uber and Lyft in the process of rolling out their own fleets of scooters, 2019 could be an even bigger — and perhaps more problematic — year for transportation. — Caitlin McGarry
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Windows 10's October Update Nosedives into November
Microsoft's Windows 10 October 2018 Update seemed like a promising update that would improve productivity on Windows machines. The problem is, it was pulled and then re-released in November, and then re-re-released again in December due to myriad issues that users ran into.
Any software update is bound to have some bugs, but nothing as alarming as what users were reporting: Up to 220GB worth of data had vanished from their hard drives. There were also reports that ZIP functions weren't prompting people with a choice to overwrite files, leading to files that would automatically delete everything in the folder that had the same name. Microsoft even has a dedicated support page cataloging all of these issues, some of which are still ongoing. — Rami Tabari
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The Last Gasp of MoviePass
MoviePass was always too good to be true. The subscription-based movie-ticketing app charged $9.95 a month for customers to see a movie a day at a variety of theaters across the country. In New York City, where the average ticket price hovers around $16, the prospect of seeing every single movie I wanted to for less than $10 a month sent me running to sign up.
But MoviePass' business model was unsustainable. People were actually using their passes to see multiple movies a month, and MoviePass' parent company began tweaking features and pricing over the summer to stem the hemorrhaging. Suddenly, I found I could only see two-week-old films at matinees — every new release was either unavailable or could only be seen by paying an extra fee on top of the subscription price. I quit.
In December, MoviePass rolled out its likeliest plan for success: a three-tier pricing system that allows you to see three movies per month. The cheapest $9.95 option limits what movies you can see and when, while a pricier $24.95 plan lets you see IMAX and 3D films. It's unclear if MoviePass can ramp back up after its crash, but at least the company's crazy idea spurred movie theater chains to reconsider their own pricing. — Caitlin McGarry
YouTube's Bad Year in Content Moderation
YouTube has a lot of problems. It doesn't pay creators fairly; it has no idea how to manage copyrighted content; and it can't moderate kids' programming to save its life. But rather than address any of those issues, in 2018, YouTube actually doubled down on rewarding its least ethical users.
As you're probably aware, YouTube has fostered a cottage industry of racist, sexist, homophobic hate-mongers, whose passionate fan bases and ability to game algorithms have earned them hundreds, thousands or even millions of viewers. White nationalists, neo-Nazis and conspiracy theorists have discovered that YouTube is fertile soil for new recruits, and it's not always easy to tell where general-interest programming stops and hatred begins. Take, for example, game-streamer's PewDiePie enthusiastic praise for an anti-Semitic colleague — or his own anti-Semitic stunts last year.
While expecting YouTube to root out every last bigot is both unrealistic and unreasonable, it could at least try to make its platform a little more welcoming rather than just shrug its shoulders and watch the money roll in. — Marshall Honorof
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Telltale Games' Sudden Shutdown
Telltale Games, creators of such hit adventure game franchises as The Walking Dead and Minecraft: Story Mode, seemed like the kind of studio that should be thriving. But after years of well-documented mismanagement, the studio announced in September 2018 that it was suddenly shutting down and filing for bankruptcy.
This was a bummer for fans awaiting the next chapter in the just-launched The Walking Dead: The Final Season, but far worse for the hundreds of employees that Telltale let go — some of whom had joined the studio just days before —with no warning or severance. Skybound Games eventually took over The Walking Dead project and even hired many former Telltale employees to finish the season, but Telltale's clear disregard for its employees left a major stain on the industry. In a year filled with stories about studio turmoil (we're looking at you, Riot and Rockstar), it's sad to see such a beloved game maker go out in the worst way possible. — Mike Andronico
HomePod's Rings of Ire
Back in February, as I was reviewing the Apple HomePod, I returned home to a big shock: Apple's Siri-powered smart speaker had left a big white ring on my wood furniture. Turns out I wasn't alone. Apple admitted that the silicone base of the HomePod could leave white rings on oil- or wax-finished wood furniture. (Apple wasn't the only culprit — I found that the Sonos One also left marks).
While the HomePod sounded great, Siri's limitations as a smart assistant turned this expensive speaker into something that left much to be desired, and now that you can stream Apple Music through Alexa speakers, its reason for being is even more questionable. Apple said the marks "will often go away after several days when the speaker is removed from the wooden surface." Well, 11 months later, the rings are still there. — Mike Prospero
Credit: Tom's Guide
PlayStation Classic Is Retro Done Wrong
It should have been so easy. Build a tiny console that resembles the original PlayStation, only much smaller. Toss a phone processor inside and fill up the flash memory with disc images of the system's best games — which again shouldn't be too difficult, because there were approximately 2,600 of them. Sony was able to get the first part right, but balked at the second, leaving the PlayStation Classic to exist as a woefully incomplete distillation of one of the greatest gaming systems ever developed.
The PS Classic not only lacks key titles and franchises, from Crash to Tomb Raider, but to make matters worse, it also fails at the emulation of the few good games it doeshave. That's partly due to shoddy engineering and partly due to the baffling decision to incorporate sluggish PAL versions of these titles, rather than their faster and smoother NTSC counterparts. Live in your world, but do yourself a favor and don't play in this one. — Adam Ismail
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23andMe Makes Big Money Off Your DNA
23andMe made a name for itself selling DIY genetic-testing kits, which could tell people a little bit about their ancestries and susceptibility to hereditary diseases. But don't let the feel-good commercials fool you; aggregating and selling DNA is big business. After collecting information from more than 5 million users, 23andMe sold their users' data to pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline for $300 million.
The problems here are twofold. First: 23andMe was essentially milking money from users twice. Not only did it cost a lot of money for a DNA test kit ($100 for ancestry; $200 for ancestry plus health), but 23andMe also made an additional $60 per user by selling their data. The bigger issue, of course, is that even if users consented to share their own genetic information for profit, think about how much DNA you share with your father, mother, brother, sister — or, worse still, identical twin. A huge, faceless pharmaceutical company now has access to the nucleotide building blocks for entire families — and if science fiction has taught us anything, we probably won't like what happens next. — Marshall Honorof
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Amazon's Prime Day Crash
Amazon, you had one job. The online retailer's worst nightmare unfolded on Prime Day as shoppers giddy to score big deals were hit with an error page. The website outage started at around 3 p.m. EDT on July 16 and continued for about an hour and a half before the bug was resolved and users regained access to steep discounts. Shoppers complained enough about the embarrassing blunder for it to trend on Twitter, and more than 21,000 angry customers reported the outage to downdetector.com.
Despite the costly failure, Amazon claims more customers made purchases in the first hour of Prime Day 2018 than they did in the same amount of time the year before. If anything, the failure shows that the retail giant can weather even the biggest slipups. To its credit, Amazon's server error page introduced shoppers to dozens of adorable dogs, which, along with mitigating the hysteria around the outage, spawned surprisingly jovial discussions on social channels. — Phillip Tracy
Verizon Throttles Firefighters Saving Lives
We ask basic things from our wireless phone service providers. Give us a reliable signal. Don't sock us with unexpected charges on our monthly bill. And please don't let your data policies get in the way of life-saving efforts during disasters. Request No. 3 proved to be a little too much to ask for from Verizon earlier this year, when it started throttling the data of firefighters dealing with deadly wildfires in Northern California this past August. When Santa Clara County firefighters contacted the wireless company to point out that life-saving efforts required timely, fast communication, a Verizon accounts manager suggested that they upgrade their account.
There's some dispute over whether Verizon's behavior was the result the FCC's decision to repeal net neutrality rules — Verizon says no, consumer advocacy groups argue otherwise — but there's no argument that Verizon bungled this badly. And it added insult to injury in the fall by rolling out an ad touting its support for first responders. At least, the carrier put a little bit of its money where its mouth is in December by introducing discounted rates for first responders.— Philip Michaels
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Yes, Google+ seemed dead for years, but a massive leak — exposing data of 52.5 million Google accounts — set a kill date for the zombie social network. Fortunately (and hilariously), it didn't actually hurt anybody, as nobody actually noticed that Google+ left full names and dates of birth (high-value information for identity thieves) open for the taking. While Google+ users could make this data visible to the public at large, the mistake took place behind the scenes, when Google+ code was changed and accidentally allowed third-party apps to view data not set for public consumption.
Arguably, 2018 could have been Google+'s big chance, considering how bad the year was for Facebook, whose Cambridge Analytica scandal is also rooted in data visible to third-party apps. This news came after the original Google+ fail, a breach wherein data was actually stolen from half a million Google users — news that prompted Google to set August 2019 as the social network's end of life. While the larger exposure didn't lead to any stolen data, it did push up the termination date to April 2019. — Henry T. Casey
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Facebook's Phenomenal Failures
On their own, many of Facebook's 2018 mishaps would have made this list. Together, they spell the impending downfall of a tech giant.
The social network's grievances began in March, when The New York Times and The Guardian simultaneously revealed that Facebook had allowed political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica to collect the personal data of millions of Facebook users through an innocuous app called "This Is Your Digital Life."
The summer unearthed scores of fake Facebook accounts with ties to Russia's Internet Research Agency, as well as a large network of fake pages linked to Iran. Fall arrived, and so did a data breach. Facebook was hacked near the end of September, leaving around 50 million accounts exposed to the (still anonymous) cybercriminals, and 90 million users forcibly logged out of their accounts.
Then, in November, the Times detailed the ways in which chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg worked to cover up the evidence of suspicious Russia-linked activity as well as Facebook's work with Definers Public Affairs to link anti-Facebook activity to economist George Soros. Soon after, a bug in Facebook's photo API granted third-party apps access to millions of users' nonpublic photos. And just this month, yet another Times investigation found that the company shared private messages (among other things) with over 100 companies, including Netflix and Spotify.
Should we have seen all of this coming? Should we have read the terms and conditions? Is it high time to Delete Our Accounts? The debates will continue to rage, and the thinkpieces will continue to muse, well into 2019.
But one thing is certain: 2018 was the year Facebook came crashing down. — Monica Chin
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