Ugliest tech stories of 2011 -- so far

Apple gets screwy, Anonymous gets really angry, Egypt pulls the plug, MySpace melts down and more

We usually wait until the end of the year to compile lists such as Ugliest Tech Stories of the Year or Top Tech Stories of the Year, but why wait when 2011 has gotten off to such an ugly start?

I'll update this piece regularly, assuming the ugliness continues...

MARCH

DroidDream a Google nightmare

Google in March flipped a remote "kill switch" to assassinate malware-infected apps called DroidDream downloaded by users of Android mobile devices. http://www.networkworld.com/news/2011/030911-google-droiddream-android.html Google had discovered more than 50 apps on its Android Market infected by DroidDream. Google said it's "adding a number of measures to help prevent malicious applications using similar exploits from being distributed through Android Market."

WordPress under attack

WordPress logo

The popular blogging platform apparently wasn't so popular with everyone, suffering outages from a massive distributed denial-of-service attack that the company says originated in China.

The attacks interfered with the company's three data centers in Chicago, San Antonio and Dallas, and initially were believed to have been politically motivated, though WordPress later said it did not think that was the case.

FEBRUARY

Gmail goes down

Gmail

Google gave 150,000 Gmail customers a scare when a bug that hit at the end of February reset accounts and made it look like up to years' worth of data had been lost.  From a Google blog post in which the company acknowledged being "very sorry" about the incident: "I know what some of you are thinking: how could this happen if we have multiple copies of your data, in multiple data centers? Well, in some rare instances software bugs can affect several copies of the data. That's what happened here. Some copies of mail were deleted, and we've been hard at work over the last 30 hours getting it back for the people affected by this issue."

Dell's losing Streak

Dell Streak

Dell shot up to the top of the all-time dumbest tech marketing stunts when two employees orchestrated a Dell Streak promotion at headquarters in Texas that was mistaken for a hostage situation and wound up resulting in a SWAT team being called in to sort things out. One employee donned a biker's costume and black mask and urged workers to go to the lobby, prompting a raft of 911 calls and plenty of unwanted publicity over the Streak tablet's interactivity with Harley-Davidson motorcycles.

Wrath of Anonymous

Aaron Barr, CEO of security company HBGary Federal, vowed to expose organizers of the online activist group Anonymous at the RSA Conference in February, but in response the Wikileaks defenders hacked his Twitter account, broke into his company network and posted more than 44,000 of the company's e-mails. They also posted his home address, phone number and Social Security number on his Twitter page.  Parent company HBGary wound up pulling out of the RSA Conference and HBGary Federal yanked its talk at a conference that runs in tandem with the RSA event. 

Egypt shuts down

Egypt's shutdown of the Internet and cell phone networks in an effort to diffuse protests against the government not only burned free speech advocates around the world, but it cost the country's economy at least $90 million, according to one report.  It also raised the specter of an Internet "kill switch" being put into the U.S. President's hands.

Microsoft, Yahoo tangle over WP7 data usage spikes

Windows Phone logo

Microsoft responded to complaints about data usage spikes seen by Windows Phone 7 by identifying a synchronization inefficiency between the Windows Phone mail client and Yahoo Mail.  But Yahoo said the problem wasn't its fault, leading one Network World reporter to blog about the new Microsoft-Yahoo comedy team

In a Huff over BlackBerry use

Huffington Post's Arianna Huffington created a stir on a flight from Washington, D.C., to New York  in January when she reportedly refused to stop using her BlackBerry smartphone when the flight crew instructed passengers to do so. The move resulted in another passenger creating a scene about it, and Huffington and the passenger were questioned by authorities upon disembarking in New York.  The story apparently didn't bother AOL, which a month later announced plans to buy out Huffington Post for $315 million.

JANUARY

Alarming start to the year

Apple iPhone users whose smartphones run iOS4 reported that their alarms weren't going off to start the year.  Apparently this wasn't just people with New Year's Eve hangovers not quite getting their stories straight: Apple acknowledged the problem, though said the glitch was affecting only one-time alarms, so recommended that customers set recurring alarms as a workaround. Of course that didn't soothe the frustration for a Massachusetts woman who said she lost her job as a waitress after she overslept due to the iPhone alarm not going off.

Microsoft blames server problem for Hotmail outage

Microsoft in January wound up apologizing after a server problem caused its Windows Live Hotmail service to temporarily delete the e-mail of more than 17,000 users.  "Customers impacted temporarily lost the contents of their mailbox through the course of mailbox load balancing between servers," wrote Chris Jones, a corporate vice president with Windows Live Engineering, on a company blog. "As with all incidents like this, we will fully investigate the cause and will take steps to prevent this from happening again. We're very sorry for the inconvenience this may have caused to you, our customers and partners."

Valuable duffel bag

A former EMC testing engineer pleaded guilty in January to charges that he stole about $930,000 worth of equipment from the company's Apex, N.C., plant.  According to court filings, he sneaked the equipment out of his workplace in a small duffel bag and then sold it on the Internet, using the name of an unwitting associate, identified only as D.B. in court records.

Misusing Facebook

Six middle school students were arrested in Nevada for their roles in allegedly inviting students to take part in "Attack a Teacher Day" via Facebook or for making online threats against teachers. 

MySpace meltdown

MySpace logo

MySpace announced in January that it was laying off 500 employees, or about 47% of its global staff, as part of a restructuring by the once-leading, now struggling social-networking site. "Today's tough but necessary changes were taken in order to provide the company with a clear path for sustained growth and profitability. These changes were purely driven by issues related to our legacy business, and in no way reflect the performance of the new product," CEO Mike Jones said in a statement.

HTML5 war

Microsoft and Google are fighting yet another public relations battle, this time over the HTML5 video standards to be used in the next generation of Web browsers.  One Microsoft employee compared Google's backing of the WebM video format in its Chrome browser to the invention of a brand new language. Their fight has opened an opportunity for enterprising businesses, like Encoding.com, which has launched a service it says enables any video to work on any of the major browsers.

AT&T iPad attackers charged

The U.S. Department of Justice filed criminal charges in January against the alleged attackers who copied personal information from the AT&T network of approximately 120,000 iPad users. One of the men charged claimed last year he was just trying to help out AT&T with its security.  

Logo fight!

Handset vendor Sony Ericsson Mobile Communications sued Clearwire in January, claiming that the U.S. WiMax operator copied its logo. Both companies use round, green logos with swirling white or silver shapes inside. Clearwire's logo did win a round in the fight in early February when a judge denied Sony Ericsson a preliminary injunction in its trademark lawsuit.

Screwing around with the iPhone

Sneaky, sneaky, sneaky. Or so says iFixit, a website that specializes in taking part electronics gear and putting it back together, about an apparent "diabolical plan" by Apple to switch the screws on iPhone and other mobile products in an effort to keep users from messing with the innards.  One upside: The Screwgate story gave the press an endless source of great headlines.

Yahoo slims down

In a negative prelude to its fourth quarter earnings report, Yahoo in January confirmed it was cutting 1% of its global staff, or about 140 employees, after slashing its workforce by 4% the previous month.   The news was followed almost immediately by word that rival Google was set to go on a hiring spree in 2011. 

Hacking Zuckerberg

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's facebook page got defaced by a hacker in late January, the result of what Facebook called an API bug.  Coincidentally, Facebook introduced a couple of new security tools less than 24 hours after the hacking incident. What's more, Zuckerberg received a restraining order against a man who has allegedly been stalking him

Netgear vs. Apple and Microsoft

Netgear CEO Patrick Lo made scathing remarks about Apple CEO Steve Jobs, saying Apple would not change its closed platform approach until Jobs "goes away" - poor wording given Jobs' health condition.  Lo later apologized for his choice of wording regarding Jobs, but stood by his remarks about Apple needing to be more open: "I deeply regret the choice of words I used in relation to business decisions Apple must grapple with in the future in relation to open vs. closed systems, which have been construed by some to be references to Steve Jobs' health and which was never my intention. I sincerely apologize that what I said was interpreted this way, and I wish Steve only the very best." As for Microsoft, Lo said "it's game over" for the company.

Accusing AT&T

A federal class action suit claims AT&T's bills "systematically overstate the amount of data used on each data transaction involving an iPhone or iPad account" and also charges for phantom data traffic. AT&T says transparent billing is one of its top priorities and that it plans to defend itself vigorously.

IDG News Service contributed to this story.

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