Although still a major global brand, the big guy in the red suit has a lot on his mind this year. Top of his worries: His old-school tracking and delivery system is ripe for disruption by some VC-fueled newcomer.
So, to help him out with some of the qualitative data he needs just to stay in the game, VentureBeat has prepared our first list of who’s been naughty and who’s been nice in all of tech this past year. These are the companies we feel are especially deserving of a slap on the wrist or a pat on the back.
Uber is developing a reputation, beyond the one it has as a pioneering on-demand car service.
This year, as the hostage situation in Sydney, Australia was in progress, Uber flipped on its surge pricing to boost cab rides as high as $200 for fleeing Australians — a textbook case of gouge pricing in a crisis. The company tweeted that the move was intended to help out by encouraging “more drivers to come online & pick up passengers in the area.”
Earlier this year, the company agreed to a new national U.S. policy eliminating surge pricing in emergencies after the NY Attorney General called them on it. But that didn’t stop the company from surge-charging one Minneapolis resident $411 for a 10.8-mile cab ride during a non-emergency.
Surging is only part of the company’s attitude problem. A company executive proposed a million dollar budget to dig up dirt on reporters the company doesn’t like.
And there’s more: Uber’s French campaign to attract riders promised hot female drivers. An internal company tool called God View reportedly allows Uber employees to see anyone’s travel records and has been used to track at least one reporter without her permission. The service has been banned in parts of India and slammed in that country for failing to properly screen drivers after one of its drivers allegedly raped a passenger. The cities of Los Angeles and San Francisco are suing the company for misleading information about how well it checks out its drivers and because it reportedly charges an airport fee in San Francisco but never pays the airport.
Santa has told us that any gifts he delivers to these guys this year will come with an added delivery charge for surge pricing.
Ever since the dawn of the connected console, games developers have been patching up their titles later and later in the release cycle. Day one updates have become the norm.
But nothing quite prepared us for the sequence of botched releases we saw in the latter part of 2014. And we’re not just talking about minor updates.
Microsoft, for example, had a catalog of errors in Halo: The Master Chief Collection, with player matchmaking issues making the headlines. In fact, developer 343 Industries had to push the release of Halo: Spartan Strike out to 2015 while it focused its attention on fixing The Master Chief Collection.
Evolution’s latest racer, Driveclub, was supposed to be the PlayStation 4’s answer to Forza. And while it looked pretty and drove well, the multiplayer elements — including the ability to create the titular “club” — were still broken a month into release.
And then there’s Ubisoft and its glitch-laden Assassin’s Creed: Unity.
You can’t help but laugh at some of the graphical missteps AC:U makes — faces disappearing only to leave disembodied eyes, teeth, and hair staring at you. However, there was nothing to laugh about when it came to co-op missions that were all but unplayable in the early days after release. Worse still, Ubisoft canceled the Season Pass for the game, a move that angered even the most loyal fans of the series.
Videogame developers, we’re sure Santa still loves you, but he’s told us that, this year, his gifts to you are so buggy they’re not ready for release.
This ephemeral messaging service seems to be on a campaign to brand itself as indifferent to its users’ security.
In January, it acknowledged that hackers had pilfered and published a huge database of users’ names and phone numbers from its servers. Gibson Security had published a report in August of 2013 about the potential vulnerability, but Snapchat apparently paid no attention.
After a massive leak of photos and videos this past fall, Snapchat deflected blame to third-party apps and servers supporting those apps.
“Snapchatters were victimized by their use of third-party apps to send and receive Snaps, a practice we expressly prohibit,” the company said in a statement.
This blame-the-victim approach ignored the fact that, for instance, a sharer in a Snapchat communication could be unaware that the receiving party is using a risky third-party app. That’s why Snapchat settled with the Federal Trade Commission in May over its claims that messages “disappear forever” — because a third-party saving app could be used without the sender’s knowledge.
Keep this up in 2015, Snapchat, and trust in your service could begin to melt away like one of your messages.
In the corporate equivalent of a temper tantrum, AT&T announced last month that it will stop investing in new high-speed fiber in 100 cities because it doesn’t know “under what rules those investments will be governed.”
The rules in question are the ones made by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which is considering a full-throated version of Net Neutrality that would put a stop to paid tiers of content, just like the cable service AT&T delivers.
Apparently, the rule’s uncertainty doesn’t affect the company’s intention to wire fiber to two million homes under its proposed $48.5 billion acquisition of DirectTV, a purchase that still needs approval by the same FCC. The agency has asked for documents clarifying exactly what AT&T’s threats mean.
We hope the FCC is saying, in effect: “Guys, you can’t threaten to take all your toys and go home if this whole Net Neutrality thing doesn’t go away and still expect us to think fondly enough of you to allow you to gobble up DirectTV.”
A company with a history stretching back more than a century should act more grown up than that, so we’re asking Santa to stop spending on any gifts for AT&T this year until its fiber uncertainty is ironed out.
The European Court of Justice
European countries want to be extra-vigilant about securing their rights.
But you would think there are better ways for regulators to spend their time than policing whether a search result leads to content on European versions of search engines that someone, somewhere on the continent, would prefer be left unfound.
That’s what the European Court of Justice has wrought in a decision this year, following a 2010 lawsuit against Google and a Spanish newspaper brought by one Mario Costeja González. He contended that a 1998 newspaper article about his house being auctioned for bad debts was no longer relevant to his present financial condition.
The story itself wasn’t ordered removed, just a link to it from searches on his name. The Court order also led Google to remove, for instance, a link to a BBC story about Merrill Lynch head Stan O’Neal when searching on his name. He was forced out of that job after the company’s disastrous losses, but apparently he felt linking him to that information was “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant,” the Court’s grounds for removal.
The search engines have had to process tens of thousands of requests to date. To make matters go from bad to fairly insane, European data authorities issued over two dozen questions to the search engines that demonstrated how poorly the Court decision had defined what was supposed to be done. Several of the questions, for instance, asked the search engines for clarity on how they decide relevance.
If someone’s info is legally inaccurate — calling them a thief when they’re not convicted, for instance — there are laws that should be enforced. One should also be able to block confidential info, if illegally obtained, from being published. But Costeja González did have his house sold to cover his debts, and O’Neal was indeed canned because of bad investment decisions.
Given all the other rights that need protecting, we call out the Court’s naughtiness for so much wasted time and effort on this new Right to Protect Hurt Feelings.
Those mysterious interceptor cell towers
As if the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) hadn’t already made us justifiably paranoid about organized eavesdropping, this year we discovered a new reason to be paranoid.
ESD America, which makes Crytophones with military-grade security, discovered dozens of previously unknown listening stations around the U.S. that are intercepting cell calls before handing them off to phone networks.
The stations, which are sometimes described as “towers” (even though they aren’t necessarily towers), have been discovered in various locations around the country, including in the immediate vicinity of the U.S. Capitol.
There is some evidence linking the interceptors to U.S. government law enforcement operations. But how extensive are they? Are their operations authorized by law?
To find out the answer to the former question, ESD America is undertaking a search across America next year to map the mysterious listeners.
It’s possible these interceptors are doing good and authorized work, listening for terrorists or criminal gangs. But, for all we know at the moment, at least some of the devices could be working for terrorists or criminal gangs — or they could be yet another part of the NSA’s dark empire.
Until we know if the interceptors are nice, we’re putting them on the Naughty list.
Thanks to a new partnership deal, Microsoft supplied every CNN commentator with a Surface Pro 3 so that they could cover the most recent Election Night in style.
Actually, we should more accurately say: “…so Surface Pros could act as a cover.”
CNN earns a Naughty for using its sponsored Microsoft tablets as stands and shields for the devices their on-air staff apparently really wanted to use — Apple iPads.
The initially positive reaction on Twitter to the Surface Pros soon turned sour as the ruse became apparent.
This isn’t the first time Microsoft has had a sponsorship deal go sour. In September, for example, sports commentators kept referring to the Surface Pro 3 devices being used by coaches and players of the NFL this year as “iPad-like tools.”
Question to CNN: If you fake your tablet preferences, what else that you do is fake?
You might think that DiGiorno would make the Naughty list for its boneheaded attempt at promotional humor linked to the anti-domestic violence #WhyIStayed hashtag. In a now-classic example of an inappropriate response, it tweeted that you stayed in an abusive relationship because: “You had pizza.”
The reason DiGiorno made it onto our Nice list, however, is because of its response to the backlash. The company did not simply abandon Twitter as fellow bonehead food purveyor Entenmann’s did when it foolishly “hashjacked” #notguilty, a tag that related to the Casey Anthony verdict: “Who’s @notguilty about eating all the tasty treats they want?!”
Instead, DiGiorno took the mensch route, not only apologizing but individually answering dozens of tweets from offended Twitter users. Any company can be boneheaded, but a scarce few use their head to make amends.
Andrew Bocarsly’s research team at Princeton
In the fight against global climate change, earthlings can lower the amount of CO2 produced by carbon-based fuels — and/or we can suck CO2 out of the atmosphere.
But, once it’s sucked out, what do we do with it? Various research teams are working on that part of the problem, but one — a Princeton University-based team led by professor of chemistry Andrew Bocarsly — announced this year it had developed the most efficient way yet to turn carbon dioxide into a possible fuel.
Using energy from solar panels, the team said it could turn CO2 into formic acid with a 1.8 percent energy efficiency — the highest man-made rate yet achieved. Even more impressively, it’s twice as efficient as natural photosynthesis, which uses sunlight and CO2 to store energy as sugar.
So, not only did the Princeton researchers take a step forward this year toward saving the planet, they also managed to outdo the energy chops of our leafy friends. Nice!
Net-powered fans of canceled TV shows
When NBC canceled Community, fans took to social media by the thousands to campaign for the show’s return.
Catchphrases, in-jokes, and themes from the show were converted to hashtags — such as #sixseasonsandamovie and #thedarkesttimeline — and dominated Twitter’s trends for days after the announcement. At one point, five of the top 10 Twitter trends were Community-related. As a result, Yahoo spotted an opportunity and announced this year that it had picked up the show for season six.
Similarly, fans of Reading Rainbow rallied on Kickstarter to raise millions of dollars to bring the hit PBS series back — as an app for iPad and Kindle Fire tablets.
These two examples of Net-leveraging — plus others, such as the one in 2013 backing a movie based on the canceled Veronica Mars TV series — are the nicest way to bring favorite shows back from the dead.
If drones are ever going to become more than toys in everyday life, they have to learn manners.
Since June, for example, there have been about two dozen episodes where drones had near-collisions with larger aircraft.
Which is why we think that polite drones are not only nice but necessary.
Like the ones being developed by researchers at the University of Sheffield in the UK. The devices’ governing software features the drone equivalent of an Alphonse and Gaston routine: “After you … no, after you … please, you first.”
In a similar vein, the Zano drones fly as if attached to a virtual tether, staying in position unless instructed otherwise.
We can only hope that all autonomous robots will be so nice. Are you paying attention, Google self-driving cars?
Sir Tim Berners-Lee
Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web and leads the consortium that oversees standards and development. This alone should put him on the nice list every year until the end of humanity.
After all, without him you wouldn’t be reading this.
But he was extra nice this year.
Not only was this the year we celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Web, but Berners-Lee took that as an opportunity to deliver his stand-out TED talk — “A Magna Carta for the Web” — in which he called out those that want to erode Net Neutrality and centralize corporate control.
In 2014, we got the message loud and clear from our Web Father.
Consumer DNA testing
Thanks to the revolution brought about by a device called “the nanofluidic chip” and a surge in companies taking advantage of it in 2014, consumers are now able to have their entire DNA sequence read and reported back to them inexpensively.
For $100-$150, it is now possible to deliver a patient’s genetic code. And while the medical applications are amazing — doctors have begun to target the very best course of personalized treatment for various cancers, for instance — entertainment applications have also sprung up from consumer DNA mapping.
We are bracing for the day when some enterprising marketing platform adds your actual DNA to your customer profile. Until then, it feels good that, for the price of a mid-range smartphone, you can now access your body’s source code.
It was a hard call to decide if the CEO and cofounder of Facebook would ultimately be Naughty- or Nice-listed this year. After all, Zuck has certainly done his share to cause the gnashing of countless teeth over privacy, ads, newsfeeds, and the like.
But he has also begun to step up to his role as a Visible Rich Person. In one of the most recent examples, he and his wife Priscilla donated $25 million this fall to help fight Ebola. Facebook also will help to bring Net connectivity to Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone in support of medical efforts.
Of course, $25 million to Zuckerberg is like $25 to the rest of us. But, out here in the real world, it’s still $25 million.
In 2010, he famously pledged $100 million in a matching contribution to Newark public schools.
It’s true there have been reports since then questioning both his motives and how the money is being spent. But there are plenty of Visible Rich People who don’t do as much, so we’re hereby endorsing the nicer side of Facebook’s empire.
(Thanks to Tom Cheredar, Kia Kokalitcheva, Jordan Novet, Emil Protalinski, Dean Takahashi, Jennifer Tsao, and Jason Wilson for nominations.)
Microsoft Corporation is a public multinational corporation headquartered in Redmond, Washington, USA that develops, manufactures, licenses, and supports a wide range of products and services predominantly related to computing through … read more »
AT&T is bringing it all together, from revolutionary smartphones to next-generation TV services and sophisticated solutions for multi-national businesses. For more than a century, they have provided innovative, reliable, high-quality p… read more »
Facebook is the world’s largest social network, with over 1.15 billion monthly active users. Facebook was founded by Mark Zuckerberg in February 2004, initially as an exclusive network for Harvard students. It was a huge hit: in 2 we… read more »
Uber Technologies Inc is known as Everyone’s Private Driver. Uber operates an on-demand car service used all over the world. With the touch of a button from your phone, you can experience your own private driver. Sign-up quickly, get p… read more »
Snapchat is a photo messaging application developed by four Stanford students. Using the app, users can take photos, record videos, add text and drawings, and send them to a controlled list of recipients. Users set a time limit for how… read more »
Ubisoft is a leading producer, publisher and distributor of interactive entertainment products. Present in 28 countries with 26 studios and a distribution network that spans more than 55 territories, Ubisoft has won over gamers worldwi… read more »
CNN operates as a division of Turner Broadcasting System, which is a subsidiary of Time Warner. CNN identifies itself as – and is widely known to be - the most trusted source for news and information. The CNN umbrella includes nine c… read more »
ESD America Inc is based in Las Vegas, NV. We are specialists in the Technical Surveillance Counter-Measures (TSCM) and encrypted communications fields. ESD America currently manufacturers the GSMK Cryptophone for United States governm… read more »
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