Top 10 tech scandals in 2013

Because we all love us some good schadenfreude

Technology trends and news by Faith Merino
December 20, 2013
Short URL: http://vator.tv/n/33eb

I love me some Silicon Valley drama. I think it’s because I love startups and innovative new products and gadgets—and then there’s another, darker part of me that’s eagerly waiting with happy schadenfreude dancing shoes for the whole capitalist system to collapse on itself. I’m very conflicted over this.

So of course, when the big corporations do something slimy, or the government turns out to be using technology against us, I eat that shit up like nobody’s business.

With that, I give you the top ten scandals in tech for 2013:

10. Marissa Mayer’s nursery.

It wasn’t the fact that Mayer used her own money to pay for the construction of a personal nursery right next to her office—more power to her. It was the fact that she did so literally one week after telling workers they were no longer allowed to work from home—at all. Period. Even though, you know, her employees probably have kids they also like to see from time to time. Now, it’s not like she should have used her own personal money to build a communal nursery/daycare center at the Yahoo headquarters (even though that’s my utopian wet dream). But it puts class divisions into stark reality, doesn’t it? It’s easy to use your personal money to build your own private nursery when Yahoo pays you $36 million a year to do your job.

9. BusinessInsider fires CTO over sexist remarks.

It took a lot to finally get BusinessInsider CTO Pax Dickinson fired. His trollish tweets spanned the gamut—they were sexist, racist, and classist. Dickinson’s Twitter feed was littered with little gems like “aw, you can’t feed your family on minimum wage? Well who told you to start a family when your skills are only worth minimum wage?” (Because didn’t you know, high-paying skills are ALWAYS objectively in high demand, which is why there are so many rich VCR repairmen walking around.) And “Women’s suffrage and individual freedom are incompatible. How’s that for an unpopular truth.” (Because individual=man. DER!) Finally, after enough shenanigans, BusinessInsider fired Dickinson in September. So of course, ever the douchey dude bro, Dickinson promptly took to Twitter to wail about “FREE SPEECH!!1!”

8. Bill Gates scolds Mark Zuckerberg.

Earlier this year, Mark Zuckerberg raised some eyebrows with his philanthrocapitalist goal of bringing the Internet to everyone in the world, going so far as to declare connectivity a “human right.” Currently, only one-third of the world is online. Obviously, expanding the Internet’s reach to the rest of the planet would drastically grow Facebook’s user base. Is it a human right? Not so much. Bill Gates, who has dedicated himself almost entirely to humanitarian work since stepping down as CEO of Microsoft, took issue with the statement. “As a priority? It’s a joke,” Gates said in an interview last month. "I certainly love the IT thing. But when we want to improve lives, you've got to deal with more basic things like child survival, child nutrition.” He even got a little snarky. "Take this malaria vaccine, [this] weird thing that I'm thinking of. Hmm, which is more important, connectivity or malaria vaccine? If you think connectivity is the key thing, that's great. I don't."

7. Sean Parker gets married.

Sometimes you just want to get married in a fake medieval Lord of the Rings-style fairyland with outfits created by an Academy Award winning costume designer. And sometimes you need a bunch of f*ckin’ bunnies, goats, and ponies to make that shit happen. Parker’s wedding last summer was a lavish display of conspicuous consumption that riled a number of people—if not for the bizarre amount of money spent on the ceremony (a rumored $10 million, but Parker says it was only $4.5 million [for the setup—no word on how much it cost to have Sting sing acapella), then for the reported environmental havoc that the wedding wreaked when it graded roads and campsites to build fake ruins and water effects, such as an artificial pond. According to CCC documents, Parker’s crew didn’t install any erosion control measures when they built walls and platforms adjacent to Post Creek, resulting in increased sedimentation, which can negatively impact the underground lignotubers that redwoods use to reproduce. Outraged by the public backlash, Sean Parker went on to write a 9,500-word rebuttal on TechCrunch, in which he insisted that the wedding was meant to be a private, personal affair—which is why he invited a journalist from Vanity Fair to report on the wedding.

6. Amazon warehouse strikes.

Amazon has been under fire this year for conditions in its warehouses worldwide. Notably, in Germany, several strikes have been mounting as workers demand higher wages commensurate with the retail industry. German workers have even taken the protest straight to Amazon’s door in Seattle. In the U.S., Amazon warehouse workers make an average of $12 an hour. That adds up to $24,300 a year, which is less than $1000 above the federal poverty line for a family of four. By comparison, Walmart—which has never been considered the beacon of labor justice—pays workers an average of $19, which works up to $40,000 a year. Today, a petition has taken off on Change.org to demand Amazon pay UK warehouse workers a living wage. Conditions in the warehouse have been described as grueling and exhausting, with compulsory overtime, timed bathroom breaks, and 15-minute breaks that start wherever you are in the giant warehouse.

5. BlackBerry up for sale—but wait, it’s not.

BlackBerry has been on a sad downward spiral for a long time now. After delivering horrendous second quarter earnings in September (analysts were expecting $3 billion in revenue and BlackBerry generated…$1.6 billion), the company revealed it would be cutting 4,500 workers—40% of its workforce—to save money. Shortly before that, BlackBerry put itself up for sale and later ended up with a bidder: Fairfax Financial Holdings, which offered $4.7 billion for the ailing smartphone company. But then it wasn’t clear whether the buyout was even possible—and then BlackBerry reneged on the whole thing. CEO Thorsten Heins (of “tablets are a fad” fame) was given the boot, along the CFO, COO, CMO, and several other execs.

4. Poor working conditions at Apple supplier facilities.

A damning report released over the summer by the advocacy group China Labor Watch revealed widespread and systemic abuses at three Pegatron facilities in China, including—but not limited to—withholding pay, confiscating workers’ ID cards (which would prevent them from being able to find work elsewhere), mandating long hours, forcing employees to work up to 14 unpaid hours a month, and so, so much more. That followed a string of suicides at the Foxconn facilities in 2010. Earlier this month, China Labor Watch released another report revealing the deaths of three Pegatron workers, one of whom was just 15 years old.

3. FWD.us and the Keystone pipeline.

When Mark Zuckerberg launched FWD.us to lobby for immigration reform, it seemed pretty cut and dry. Only it turns out, it wasn’t. This past spring, FWD.us lost a few critical supporters, including Elon Musk and David Sacks, when two subsidiaries released ads in support of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline and oil drilling. The activist group CREDO later created ads featuring an image of Mark Zuckerberg and urged FWD.us to drop ads supporting the Keystone pipeline. Facebook came down hard on CREDO’s ads, saying that it rejects ads that contain Mark Zuckerberg’s image because they tend to be misleading. Musk, a committed environmentalist, told AllThingsD: “I agreed to support Fwd.us because there is a genuine need to reform immigration. However, this should not be done at the expense of other important causes. I have spent a lot of time fighting far larger lobbying organizations in D.C. and believe that the right way to win on a cause is to argue the merits of that cause.” The Sierra Club and MoveOn.org pulled their ads from Facebook over the ruckus.

2. The failed Healthcare.gov launch.

It was supposed to be the dawn of a new era. But on the first day, the onslaught of people seeking health insurance was so overwhelming that only a handful were able to get through. For the first few weeks, the site was actually down 60% of the time. The Obama administration had been expecting 500,000 enrollees for the month of October, but it ended up only enrolling about 106,000—and only 27,000 of those came through the Healthcare.gov website. And then it turned out that—oh, shit—a technical report issued the day before launch revealed that the site couldn’t handle more than 1,100 concurrent users before site speed became too bogged down to function. The team working on the site was told to get the site to a point where it could handle 10,000 concurrent users. The federal government was expecting 50,000 to 60,000 concurrent users. How many did they get? About 250,000 concurrent users. Oops.

1. The Edward Snowden files.

I know. I KNOW. It’s been done TO DEATH. We all know about the NSA surveillance of phone records, emails, and whathaveyou. We all know how companies like Apple, Yahoo, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and more were compelled to turn over customer data. Now the U.S. is facing international backlash over revelations that the NSA and its British counterpart GCHQ have also been spying on Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak, two Israeli embassies, and VP of the European Commussion Joaquín Almunia, along with the heads of international aid organizations and foreign energy companies. Yeah, the whole NSA shitstorm is just going to keep getting worse.