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December 19, 2013

Top tech controversies of 2013

From Silk Road's shut down and reappearance to BlackBerry's gaffs...

By Claire Vanner

In the past twelve months, a lot has happened in the tech world, and not all of it good. In fact, there have been several controversial occurrences this year. Here is a roundup:

Samsung Galaxy Gear

Samsung’s smartwatch was geared to launch the world into the world of wearable technology and was marketed as pioneering technology.

However, the smartwatch was faced with much criticism and despite selling 800,000 units in its first two months, and it has not performed as expected.

A document leaked in October revealed that almost a third of the Galaxy Gear smartwatches (sold in Best Buy locations) were being returned.

Samsung is already planning to release the next model of the Galaxy Gear to tackle any growing doubts in the company’s standing in the wearable tech market.


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Microsoft CEO Succession

Steve Ballmer announced he was stepping down as Microsoft CEO in August, yet as of the week before Christmas 2013, the list of potential replacements has still only been cut down to just less than 20.

Obviously they are very large shoes to fill, but it is unnerving for some that the tech giant will still be without a leader entering 2014.

Others are concerned that Ballmer is apparently leaving of his own accord, yet he issued some fairly radical changes to Microsoft before handing in this notice.

All of this occurred while it was reported that founder Bill Gates was being lobbied against by board members. Three investors are worried that Gates’ role as chairman would block the implementation of new schemes, while also limiting the power of a new chief executive to make substantial changes.


Adobe data breach

Adobe suffered a security breach in October and declared that 3 million customer accounts had been accessed in the attack.

The original statement said that the hackers accessed an undisclosed number of Adobe IDs and encrypted passwords that were stored in a separate database.

However, the Photoshop and Acrobat software company later admitted the hackers obtained data on more than 38 million customer accounts. Adobe were then slow in reacting to the breach and failed to properly inform those customer’s whose accounts were made vulnerable.

Not only was the fact that there was a breach shocking, but the fact that the initial number of those affected was so severely underestimated reflected poorly on Adobe.


BlackBerry’s failings

What a year it has been for BlackBerry. After an attempted return to power for the smartphone company with their Z10 model, all efforts have fallen flat, leaving BlackBerry many with doubts about the company’s future.

The company reported a $968m loss in Q2, revealed plans to lay of 40% of its workforce by the end of the year and eventually agreed to a sale of $4.7bn by its biggest shareholder Fairfax Financial.

It has now been revealed that BlackBerry mobile phone sales dropped to nearly zero in major markets over the third quarter.

With various factors contributing to the company’s losses, BlackBerry has limped to the end the year barely in tact.

However, interim CEO John Chen claimed the company is "very much alive".
"We’re going back to our heritage and roots – delivering enterprise-grade, end-to-end mobile solutions," Chen said. "Our ‘for sale’ sign has been taken down and we are here to stay."


Silk Road

When the FBI seized online drugs marketplace Silk Road in October, it seemed like a victory against illegal online activity and drugs trafficking.

Silk Road owner, Ross William Ulbricht, recognised online as ‘Dread Pirate Roberts’, was detained by the US law enforcement authorities in San Francisco for alleged mastermind on charges of drug trafficking, hacking and money laundering.

FBI agent Christopher Tarbell said in a criminal complaint filed at San Francisco federal court that Silk Road has emerged as the most sophisticated and extensive criminal marketplace on the Internet today.

However, just weeks later, the site appeared live online again. The twitter feed for Dread Pirate Roberts reads: "#SilkRoad has lift-off". The new homepage for the seized site read "This Hidden Site Has Risen Again", parodying the US Department of Justice notice, which read "the hidden site has been seized".

Additionally, $28m worth of Bitcoins were seized in a raid of several accounts linked Silk Road, thought to be the biggest ever seizure of Bitcoins.


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