From fake news to the burning Note 7, the 10 worst tech failures of 2016

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Well, 2016 — it’s been real.

This year has seen quite a number of notable deaths — from Alan Rickman and David Bowie to Prince and Muhammad Ali; and has also seen a great deal of historic and impactful events, such as Brexit, the various terrorist attacks in countries like France, Turkey, and Belgium, the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, and the Cubs winning the World Series.

This year has also been an eventful year in tech. While there has been a lot of growth like the rise of Facebook Live, the popularity of AI assistants like Google Home and Amazon’s Alexa, and advances in the self-driving market — we’re taking a look at some events and products that didn’t have such a grand time (in no particular order).

A burst of fake news

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Fake news plagued the 2016 U.S. Election, but pledges to combat it only came after the results on November 8. Fake stories such as how the Pope endorsed President-Elect Donald Trump (he didn’t), and how Trump won the popular vote (he didn’t) offered a false narrative that reinforced beliefs.

More: Influential or insignificant? A primer on Facebook’s fake news dilemma

Things got so bad that Google changed its “In the news” section to “Top Stories” after one search result showed Trump as the winner of the popular vote. Facebook had an even bigger problem as the top three fake news stories “generated more engagement” than the top stories from sites like The New York Times and the Washington Post, according to Buzzfeed News.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently announced plans to combat fake news on the social media platform by making it easier to report fake stories, as well as hiring third-party groups of fact checkers from organizations like ABC News, the Associated Press, Snopes, Politifact, and FactCheck.

Tech giants face a lot of the blame for perpetuating fake news on their platforms, and it’s certainly affecting people. A Stanford University study found that more than 80 percent of students surveyed could not tell the difference between fake and real stories. This year highlighted the importance of fact-checking.

Encryption: Apple vs. the FBI

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Last year, two terrorists killed 14 people in San Bernardino, California. While the shooters were fatally shot in the aftermath, the attack ended up turning into a political and tech battle between the FBI and Apple. One of the shooters left behind a locked iPhone — the FBI wanted to get in, and while Apple offered assistance at first, the company rejected a court order demanding the creation of a backdoor.

Apple claimed the creation of a backdoor would be “too dangerous” as it would open iOS to security and privacy threats.

“The FBI wants us to make a new version of the iPhone operating system, circumventing several important security features, and install it on an iPhone recovered during the investigation,” said CEO Tim Cook said in a customer letter. “In the wrong hands, this software — which does not exist today — would have the potential to unlock any iPhone in someone’s physical possession.”

Most of Silicon Valley sided with Apple, and politicians weighed in on the issue — even President Barack Obama urged tech companies to compromise on encryption. Eventually, the case was dropped as the FBI hired third-party gray hat hackers to unlock the iPhone.

But the battle highlighted a problem plaguing local and federal law enforcement — that there are hundreds of encrypted smartphones and laptops sitting in evidence lockers around the country, with no easy way to gain access. It also prompted local and federal politicians to draft bills that would force companies to comply with court orders and hand over any plain-text communications the government demands, though many of these efforts have since failed to gain much traction thanks to pressure from privacy advocates.

While the case ended earlier this year, encryption still remains a hot topic — secure messaging apps like Signal, for example, are seeing a boost in users after the results of the election.

The fiery Galaxy Note 7

Ah, the Galaxy Note 7. What is most disappointing about the Note 7 is that it received rave reviews from critics and tech reviewers alike — we gave it a 4 out of 5 and it was awarded Editors’ Choice. But then reports emerged about devices catching fire and causing harm, likely due to the battery.

Samsung issued a recall, but unfortunately, it began shipping replacement units before it actually figured out the cause of the Note 7’s fiery combustion. When replacement devices had the same issue, it led to the death of the phone for good. Samsung issued a software update that disables any remaining Note 7 phones by eliminating their “ability to work as mobile devices.”

Now, any mention of Samsung phones is likely to garner a joke about fire, and the fact that it’s one of the first phones ever to be banned on airplanes doesn’t help its case. The Korean giant has a lot to prove in 2017 with its upcoming Galaxy S8, and word has it Samsung is considering using batteries from its competitor, LG.

RIP headphone jack

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Contrary to what many may believe, Apple did not eliminate the headphone jack first. Android handset makers like Chinese-company LeEco and the Lenovo-owned Motorola take the crown for that decision — but there’s no doubt that the lack of a 3.5mm headphone jack on the iPhone 7 sent waves through the audio industry.

While most lamented the loss of the headphone jack and the need to use dongles, it’s unlikely Bluetooth headset manufacturers are feeling all that bad. Expect to see Bluetooth earbuds everywhere in 2017, especially now that the AirPods are available for purchase and there are also rumors that Samsung may remove the headphone jack in its upcoming Galaxy S8.

While the 3.5mm jack isn’t antiquated just yet, expect to see more phones with 3.5mm adapters in the box next year.

Gawker’s demise

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Peter Theil at the Hy! Summit, Heisenberg Media

Gawker, a gossip blog that launched in 2002, died this year. The site’s last post was in August, when it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy due to the monetary judgment from the Hulk Hogan sex tape case.

The website published a tape of the former wrestler having sex with his friend’s wife, and Hogan sent a cease-and-desist letter asking Gawker to remove the video. The site’s founder, Nick Denton, refused, citing the video’s news value fell under the purview of the First Amendment. The site also refused a judge’s order to take the video down.

Hogan then sued Gawker and eventually won the case, forcing Gawker to sell itself. Univision stepped up and bought the site for $135 million. Gawker’s archive of articles are still online, except for ones that were involved in litigation, and Gawker Media Group has now been changed to Gizmodo Media Group.

Billionaire Peter Thiel, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, said he was bankrolling Hogan’s case as a personal vendetta against Gawker. One of Gawker’s now-defunct sister sites outed him as gay more than a decade ago.

It’s no surprise Gawker’s demise comes from a published sex tape. The website was constantly embroiled in controversy and legal disputes for its content.

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