10 Tech Grinches of 2012

Brains full of spiders, hearts full of unwashed socks, here are 2012's mean ones of tech.

Reuters

2012's Grinches of Tech

Dr. Seuss had it right. Most folks understand the true meaning of the season. Others, well, their brains are full of spiders and they have garlic in their souls.

While the tech industry is filled with kind and generous people, it also had its share of Grinches over the past 12 months -- companies that took when it was better to give, individuals who looked out only for themselves.

Perhaps once filled with holiday spirit they'll undergo a last-minute transformation. But we're not betting on it.

Reuters / Bobby Yip

Foxconn

The residents of Whoville had it easy. All the Grinch did was steal their Christmas -- he didn't force them to pull 12-hour shifts assembling iPhones for $17 a day. Chinese contract manufacturer Foxconn found itself the center of unwanted media attention last January, following investigative reports detailing poor conditions, riots, and numerous suicides among its 1.2 million employees, not to mention crowded, cockroach-infested worker dormitories. The company has promised to bump up its pay and improve conditions -- at least until it can replace its human employees with robots that work even cheaper and never complain. 

Reuters / Stephen Lam

Zynga

Right before Zynga's stock tanked last spring, CEO Mark Pincus (pictured) and a handful of investors cashed out a secondary offering at $12 a share, netting more than half a billion dollars -- $200 million of which went into Pincus's pocket. Since then, the gamemaker's stock price has languished under $3, it's laid off more than 100 employees, and Zynga is now the target of a class-action lawsuit alleging insider trading. The maker of FarmVille and CityVille appears to be headed straight to ToiletVille. But its top management? They'll still be flush.

Wikipedia

Rep. Lamar Smith

Congressman Smith (R-Texas) earned his Grinch status by authoring the Stop Online Piracy Act, aka SOPA, which went down to defeat after a widespread Internet “blackout” protest last January. The bill would have required ISPs to selectively block pirate websites -- opening a back door for censoring controversial sites that have little to do with piracy, such as WikiLeaks. The climate-change-denying representative was just named chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology; maybe next year he'll try to repeal the laws of gravity or issue a flat-earth tax.

Reuters / New Zealand

Feckless Feds

When the FBI shut down Megaupload last January, it not only cut access to petabytes of allegedly illegal movie and music downloads, it also grabbed millions of files stored by legitimate users. At the same time, an elite anti-terror squad in New Zealand launched a full-bore assault on the lavish Aukland compound of Megaupload founder KimDotcom (pictured), arresting him and three associates. Five months later the New Zealand High Court ruled the search excessive and illegal, tossing the evidence. But the files owned by Megaupload's legit users are still being held by the U.S. government, despite efforts by the Electronic Frontier Foundation to free them. How Grinchlike was it? The MPAA declared the raid a “massive success.” Enough said.

Reuters / Jessica Rinaldi

Verizon

They say nothing succeeds like excess, and Verizon is proof. In June the telecom giant announced it was laying off 1,700 workers, making for more than 40,000 positions axed since 2007. Verizon's executive compensation over the same period? A cool $350 million, topped by the $22.5 million take-home pay of CEO Lowell C. McAdam (pictured) -- most of it in the form of “performance awards.” Turns out McAdam's heart is two sizes smaller than his wallet.

Wikipedia

Charles Carreon

In June, this California attorney tried to strong-arm hugely popular online comic The Oatmeal (aka Matt Inman) into ponying up 20 large to his client, FunnyJunk, to avoid a defamation suit. Instead Carreon found himself up taking on the entire Internet. (He lost.)  But his true Grinch nature came out when he sued to keep Inman from donating the $210,000 he raised from his supporters to fund cancer research and wildlife preservation. Carreon, who even looks a bit like the Grinch minus the green complexion, lost that fight too. We hope he doesn't sue us for saying that.

Reuters / Jessica Rinaldi

AT&T Mobility

Remember that “unlimited” data plan you got when you bought your AT&T iPhone? Late last year Ma Bell's bastard progeny, led by CEO Ralph de la Vega (pictured), made good on plans to throttle its most bandwidth hungry users, and in March it tightened the screws even further. Users with 3G handsets found surfing more like slogging after downloading more than 3GB during a billing period; 4G users hit the wall at 5GB. Southern California truck driver Matt Spaccarelli decided he wasn't going to take that sitting down, so he sued the telecom giant in small-claims court and won, collecting $850. Multiply that by AT&T's 44 million smartphone subscribers -- that would be a gift worth seeing under the tree.

Bad hackers

We get it -- if you really want to, you can ruin anyone's life with a few clicks and a handful of tricks. Mat Honan (pictured) can certainly attest to that. The Wired staffer had his life turned upside by hackers who were after his @mat Twitter handle but proceeded to break into his Apple, Amazon, and Google accounts and wipe his iDevices clean of all data. Many anguished hours and $1,700 later, he'd managed to recover most of what the hackers destroyed just for lulz. Good joke, guys.

Reuters / Luke MacGregor

Mobile app makers

Stealing candy from Cindy-Lou Who is nothing compared to stealing data from smartphone-wielding kids. This month the FTC accused mobile app makers of doing a lousy job informing parents what information apps are siphoning from children. The Center for Digital Democracy went further, charging app maker Mobbles with violating the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act by collecting email addresses and location data from users under age 13. In the app, children are urged to locate and collect cartoon pets (“Mobbles”) using their phones' GPS. Mobbles claims it doesn't store location information and that it targets the app -- rated age 4+ at the iTunes Store -- at people age 13 or older. We wouldn't touch that claim with a 39-and-a-half-foot pole.

Reuters / Mexico

The Maya

They promised us an apocalypse in 2012, but did they deliver? Noooo. Turns out that when the current Mayan Calendar ends on Dec. 21, a new 5,000-year one starts. So after having gone off our diets, gambled away our life savings, told our bosses exactly what we think of them, professed our unrequited love to several former high school honeys on Facebook, and told the IRS to kiss our assets -- now we have to live with the consequences. Thanks, Maya. Thanks a bunch.