The Year in Tech: 2014's 13 Biggest Fails, Flops, and Faux Pas

For these companies, it was just the worst of times.

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The unlucky 13

Yes, there was plenty to get excited about in 2014, but not all the tech news from the past twelve months was good. This year we saw Bitcoin’s biggest early star disappear, Facebook manipulate its users, Amazon enter the smartphone market with a resounding thud, and many, many more facepalm-worthy moments. These are the 13 biggest tech flops and fails of 2014.

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Michael Bay's CES meltdown

Arguably the first tech fail of the year, director of the Transformers movie franchise Michael Bay was at the Consumer Electronics Show in January to kick-off a promotional team-up with Samsung for its UHD TV. Bay—accustomed as he wasn’t to public speaking—walked off the stage after a teleprompter meltdown forced him to improvise a speech. It was painful to watch.

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Bitcoin's growing pains

The world of Bitcoin was turned on its head in January when Mt. Gox, once the largest Bitcoin exchange, mysteriously ceased operations. By February, the company had filed for bankruptcy and claimed it had lost 850,000 Bitcoins (nearly $500 million at the time) and a little more than $27 million in cash. And that was only the first of two major firestorms for Bitcoin. In March, Newsweek reported it had discovered the identity of Satoshi Nakamoto, the mysterious creator of Bitcoin. Newsweek’s report was, and still is, highly disputed.

But those Bitcoin controversies haven’t hurt the crypto-currency in the long run. During 2014, several major companies started to accept Bitcoin, including Dish TV, Microsoft, and PayPal (kind of).

Image credit: REUTERS/Max Whittaker

Uber gets nasty

Some companies try to improve bad press reports by improving their behavior, while others think about upping the stakes with intimidation tactics and dirty tricks. Emil Michael, senior vice president of business for ride-sharing service Uber, landed in hot water after he suggested Uber could dig up dirt on unfriendly journalists to run smear campaigns against them. Needless to say that didn’t go over well with the press—and things got worse when Uber was accused of accessing user data for at least one BuzzFeed journalist.

The misdeeds didn’t end there. Several Uber drivers were arrested in 2014 for raping and assaulting their passengers. Delhi, India banned Uber after one such incident.

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#GamerGate

This infamous hashtag started off as a campaign of hate against one female game developer and quickly devolved into violent threats against even more women, including game critic Anita Sarkeesian, Felicia Day, and developer Brianna Wu.

Although supporters of the movement claimed #gamergate was about improving ethics in gaming journalism, it did anything but. Turns out threats of rape and decapitation against non-journalists don’t encourage those who report on the gaming industry to stop having purportedly close relationships with the companies and people they cover.

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The iCloud hack/'The Fappening'

It wasn’t really a hack and it covered more than just iCloud, but when nude pictures of starlets such as Jennifer Lawrence, Kirsten Dunst, and Kate Upton hit the Internet it set off a firestorm. Occurring around the height of #gamergate’s misogyny and just days before discussions about the propriety of publishing ISIS decapitation photos, there was scant public tolerance for hackers' stealing celebrities' personal photos.

Lawrence led the charge: The Hunger Games star refused to apologize for the photos—standard procedure for these kinds of “scandals” previously—and called the leak a “sex crime.”

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Snapchat forever

Snapchat rose to fame by allowing users to share images that self-destructed after a set period of time. The service was inevitably used for nude selfies and other naughty pics, which also inevitably backfired after 90,000 Snapchat photos surfaced online in October. The leak wasn’t from Snapchat itself, but a third-party service called SnapSaved that allowed you to save Snapchat photos—defeating the entire purpose of using Snapchat as advertised in the first place.

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Public property at a good price

A few enterprising companies thought they could make money by throwing good sense out the window and violating the basic concepts of public property. One such company was Monkey Parking, which tried to create a platform where people could sell street parking spots to each other.

The company first rolled out in San Francisco in May, but the city didn’t like the idea of selling the rights to asphalt and concrete that was put in place with taxpayer dollars. Monkey Parking pulled out of San Francisco in July after receiving a cease-and-desist letter from the city.

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Facebook gets emotional

If there’s one thing Facebook users hate more than having their privacy violated, it’s having their news feeds turned into a laboratory experiment. Facebook caught heat in June after reports surfaced the company adjusted the news feeds of 689,000 users to see whether the changes could make people feel happier or sadder. Even creepier, the experiment fell within the bounds of Facebook’s privacy policy.

We’ll all just playthings for Zuck.

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Amazon's Fire Phone flames out

After raising expectations of an Amazon-branded smartphone for at least three years, the online retailer finally introduced the Fire Phone in July… but it quickly fell flat thanks to middling specs, a high price, and a gimmicky UI that had more hype than substance. The Fire Phone began life selling for $650 unsubsidized, but by November that contract-free price had fallen all the way to $199. Amazon was also forced to take a $170 write-down, largely due to unsold Fire Phones, in October.

Despite a frosty reception to the Fire Phone, Amazon hasn’t given up and plans to keep on trying to crack the smartphone market.

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Aereo goes under

It seemed like the perfect plan: Rely on a legal loophole to push broadcast television into the present by bringing it online. But the broadcasters didn’t like Aereo’s approach, which filled warehouses with coin-sized antennas (pictured at left), then rented digital access to those antennas to people who used them to view and record broadcast channels on the Internet. Lawsuits dogged Aereo in nearly every state where it tried to do business. The company was ultimately undone when the Supreme Court ruled against its business practices in June. Five months later, Aereo announced plans to file for bankruptcy.

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Google Barge runs aground

They sailed into the harbors of San Francisco and Portland, Maine under a cloud of mystery in 2013. But it didn’t take long for news hounds to figure out that Google was planning something with two barges on opposite sides of the country. Google eventually gave up the goods and said the barges would be floating product showrooms. By August, however, the East Coast barge was headed for the scrap heap, and the West Coast craft currently sits unused in Stockton, California. A report in The Wall Street Journal in November revealed the barges were ultimately scuttled over fire safety concerns.

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Fitbit Force recall

Before Android Wear and Apple Watch came onto the scene, activity trackers were the biggest wearable gadgets on the market, and none were bigger than Fitbit’s. But the company hit a stumbling block in late 2013 when reports surfaced of severe allergic reactions to its well-received Fitbit Force. FitBit recalled the Force in February, 2014, halting production completely, with a vow to return to market with a similarly deluxe model sans dermal irritations.

FitBit’s Force follow-up, the Charge, appeared in October—long after Android Wear demonstrated how smart watches can do everything an activity tracker can do and more.

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Anonaboot

When the Anonabox Kickstarter project appeared in October it appeared to be a great solution for those weary of being pawns in NSA surveillance programs. Similar to other community projects, the $51 Anonabox was a device that could plug into your router and move all Internet traffic through the anonymizing Tor network.

But days after it appeared on Kickstarter, Anonabox was pulled from the crowd-funding site for misleading backers who had already pledged nearly $600,000 to the project. Anonabox resurfaced on Indiegogo in November. While that campaign’s still ongoing, it’s raised a much more modest sum after the brouhaha.