10 most controversial technology stories of 2010 – so far

Google, Apple, Facebook and others have earned their share of unwanted attention this year

Everyone loves a controversial story and the technology industry has been serving them up left and right in 2010, typically featuring big names like Apple, Google and Comcast. Here’s a look back at the biggest such headlines so far this year:

Apple vs. Adobe and the Flash Wars

Apple CEO Steve Jobs has incurred the wrath of Adobe this year by bashing Flash and disallowing it on iPhone OS-based products. Jobs in April penned a letter laying out his security and performance concerns with Flash.  Adobe hasn’t taken the criticism lying down, with Adobe CTO Kevin Lynch claiming Apple's refusal to support Flash is "like 1984 in a lot of ways," referring to Apple being Big Brother-like in its control of what can run on its popular products. An Adobe platform evangelist separately blogged that Apple should “go screw yourself” for its Flash attitude.  In May, Adobe launched a cheeky ad campaign in May touting Adobe’s love for Apple  – except for Apple’s blocking technological freedom of choice. 

Facebook privacy problems

What was supposed to be Facebook’s latest bold move to own the Web has turned into stirred up major privacy concerns regarding how the social network site handles personal data. Facebook in March announced the Open Graph API and Protocol designed to mesh Facebook with other Web sites and enable them all to exploit user data to personalize the surfing and social media experience.  But the system has resulted in such a huge outcry that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg even wrote a column in the Washington Post  acknowledging mistakes made by the company on this front and promising to make privacy settings much simpler. And these are privacy concerns above and beyond those introduced by bugs  in the social networking site. Reporters and pundits have tripped over one another while writing how they are quitting Facebook and a poll found that more than half of Facebook users claimed they might quit because of privacy worries. 

Google takes on China

Google threatened at the start of the year to stop censoring on its Google.cn site in China and to bolt China after a massive cyberattack against its network was determined to have originated in China.  Google made good on its promise in March, when it began redirecting those visiting Google.cn to Google’s site in Hong Kong.  Not long after, reports surfaced that China was blocking access to Google. Meanwhile, other such as Microsoft have said they will remain in China, having done business there for more than 20 years.

Net Neutrality wins and losses

A court ruling in early April went in favor of Comcast vs. the FCC and its vision of ‘Net Neutrality. A U.S. appeals court ruled that the FCC did not have the authority to order Comcast to stop throttling peer-to-peer traffic in the name of network management. That decision predictably got the pro and con ‘Net Neutrality crowds in a tizzy… as did a proposal issued by the FCC in May that it had come up with a new “Third Way”  toward achieving its ‘Net Neutrality goals. The FCC plan would allow it to partially reclassify broadband as a common-carrier service in an attempt to move forward with net neutrality rules and its national broadband plan. 

The school webcam case

The IT department for the Lower Merion School District in Pennsylvania came under fire for enabling webcams in student laptops to spy on the kids while they were at home.   The technology department claimed the technology was installed to help track down lost or stolen laptops. The sneakiness involved in deploying the technology generated outrage against the school, including at least one lawsuit filed by parents whose son was allegedly spied upon.  Some observers said the case provides some good lessons for businesses in their approaches to monitoring employees.

Google WiFi snooping

Google said in mid-May that it would  stop its Street View cars that snap pictures used in Google Maps from sniffing wireless networking data after an embarrassing privacy gaffe. The company revealed that Street View vehicles had been sniffing the content of users' Internet communications on open WiFi networks, despite the company's earlier statements to the contrary.  But Google’s mea culpa didn’t stop outraged parties from jumping in, with a consumer group calling on the Federal Trade Commission to investigate Google and an ISP filing suit over Google allegedly violating state and federal privacy protection laws. 

The defective McAfee update

McAfee earned boatloads of abuse from customers and industry watchers after a bad software update in April knocked out Windows XP PCs worldwide.  Fuming customers flocked to McAfee support forums and of course, Twitter,  to vent. McAfee did issue an apology to customers,  .5% of which it said were affected by the snafu, and said it was searching for answers about how the whole thing happened.

Case of the lost/stolen iPhone

The case of the iPhone 4G prototype lost by an Apple employee in a bar and found by a customer who sold it to website Gizmodo, raised all sorts of ethical questions about Apple, the press and the finder/keeper.   Should Apple have played hardball with Gizmodo?  Should the finder have sold it to Gizmodo? Should Gizmodo have accepted the offer and published its preview of the device? It even inspired a Network World reporter to got all Shakespearean on the topic.

Apple cleans up the smut

Apple has been stuck in the middle of a classic battle between those in favor of completely free speech and those who want the company to filter out sexually offensive offerings in its App Store. Apple in February went about purging “overtly sexual content” from its iPhone App Store in an attempt to clean up  what some developers and customers said was a growing problem. Though some said Apple got carried away, even nixing seemingly harmless apps, such as those involving bathing suits.  However, the Parents Television Council in April said Apple still was not cleaning up the smut enough.  And it wasn’t just smut that landed Apple’s App Store policies in the news: The company also got its share of unwanted attention after it rejected an app from a Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist, whose app was originally deemed possibly objectionable (Apple relented on this one).

Foxconn suicides

The saddest story of the year is the rash of suicide attempts by employees at Foxconn Technology Group,  a Taiwanese manufacturer of Apple iPhones, Dell and HP PCs, and other gear. Investigations, some spearheaded by those vendors, are ongoing as company and government officials try to get to the bottom of this mystery, which critics say could be the result of harsh working conditions.

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