Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is surrounded by members of the media as he arrives to testify before a Senate Judiciary and Commerce Committees joint hearing regarding the company’s use and protection of user data.REUTERS/Leah Millis
- From Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica debacle to Google’s sexual misconduct investigations, 2018 has been a year rocked by scandal in tech industry.
- Here are the 18 biggest tech scandals that happened this year.
In the tech world, 2018 was rocked by scandal.
Over the last 12 months, many tech companies have found themselves at the center of our country’s most pressing social and political issues.
Facebook provided Cambridge Analytica — a data firm used by President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign to target voters — with 87 million users’ personal information without obtaining proper consent.
Google reportedly paid an executive tens of millions of dollars after he was let go over a sexual misconduct investigation.
And WhatsApp became a hotbed of misinformation, influencing political elections and costing people their lives.
What follows are the 18 biggest scandals in the tech industry over the course of the last year:
February: Uber and Waymo go to court over stolen trade secrets regarding self-driving car technology.
Former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick.Getty
In February, Uber and Google’s self-driving car spinoff, Waymo, went to court over allegations that Uber stole trade secrets relating to Waymo’s self-driving-car technology.
The case centered around Anthony Levandowski, a high-profile engineer who was accused of taking information with him when leaving Google and bringing that information to Uber when he joined the company.
The trial was hugely anticipated among those in tech, as it included two of Silicon Valley’s largest companies, and even featured testimony from Uber’s former CEO, Travis Kalanick.
Ultimately, Uber agreed to pay Waymo $245 million in equity.
March: Google’s Project Maven contract to partner with the Department of Defense on AI technology is revealed.
Google CEO Sundar Pichai.Getty
In March, a report by Gizmodo revealed that Google had a contract in place with the US Department of Defense for the use of artificial intelligence technology, known internally as Project Maven.
Critics of the AI tech — which speeds up the process of analyzing video images — believed it could be used for increasing the accuracy of drone-missile strikes, which often result in civilian casualties. As a result, thousands of Google employees signed a letter to Google CEO Sundar Pichai, urging the company to end the contract, saying: “We believe that Google should not be in the business of war.”
In June, after facing intense internal and external pressures, Google announced it would not renew its current contract with the DoD, which expires in 2019.
March: A self-driving Uber car hits and kills a woman in Arizona.
In March, a woman in Tempe, Arizona, was killed by a self-driving car operated by Uber. It was the first time a pedestrian had been killed by an autonomous vehicle.
Uber, which had been competing with companies like Waymo and GM to bring self-driving services to market, subsequently paused all of its autonomous vehicle testing.
Now, as the company prepares to return its cars to the roads, new reports from Business Insider have revealed the internal debates and dysfunction leading up to March’s tragic accident.
March: Facebook announces 87 million users were affected by the Cambridge Analytica debacle.
Photo by Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images
Facebook announced in March that Cambridge Analytica, a data firm used by Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, had been suspended from Facebook for its mishandling of user data.
Initially, reports indicated that 50 millions users had their personal information harvested by Cambridge Analytica without authorization, but that number later grew to 87 million users.
The privacy breach led to a widespread “#DeleteFacebook” movement.
March: Facebook is blamed for the spread of hate speech on its platform that helped fuel violence toward ethnic minority groups in Myanmar.
Reuters/Mohammad Ponir Hossain
In March, the United Nations and other humanitarian groups blamed Facebook for not doing enough to control the spread of fake news and hate speech on its platform, which helped to fuel violence toward Rohingya Muslims, an ethnic minority in Myanmar.
An estimated 700,000 Rohingya Muslims fled Myanmar amid a targeted movement of violence including killings, rape, and arson.
A human rights report commissioned in November by Facebook itself came to the same conclusion: Facebook could have done more.
July: Google is fined a record $5 billion for abusing the dominance of its Android mobile operating system.
Google was slapped with a hefty $5 billion fine in July for using its popular Android software as leverage to get phone manufacturers to pre-install Google apps on their devices.
The fine was a result of a three-year investigation by Europe’s antitrust watchdog group, and it’s the biggest fine for antitrust violations that the group has ever issued.
Although Google said it would appeal the fine, the tech company has said it’s complying with the EU decision in the meantime. Google shared some of the changes it would make as a result, which include charging phone makers who want to pre-install the bundle of Google apps.
August: A report reveals Google’s work on Dragonfly, a censored search engine for China.
An Intercept report in August revealed that Google was planning to re-launch a censored search engine for mainland China, which had the codename “Dragonfly.”
Tensions rose within the company as news of the censored search engine broke, and boiled over in a heated all-hands meeting hosted by Google CEO Sundar Pichai and the company’s cofounder, Sergey Brin.
A letter was circulated by employees regarding Dragonfly that stated: “Currently we do not have the information required to make ethically-informed decisions about our work … Google employees need to know what we’re building.”
The company still has not confirmed whether its search engine for China will go live.
September: Alphabet CEO Larry Page refuses to attend a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing.
In September, the Senate Intelligence Committee called Twitter, Facebook, and Google to testify about the companies’ plans to diminish foreign interference in future elections and, more broadly, how they planned to moderate content across their platforms going forward.
Twitter and Facebook agreed, sending CEO Jack Dorsey and COO Sheryl Sandberg, respectively, but Alphabet CEO Larry Page refused to attend.
“Given its size and influence, I would have thought the leadership at Google would want to demonstrate how seriously it takes these challenges,” Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia said at the time.
At the hearing, the Senate Intelligence Committee left an open seat at the table for Google.
September: Facebook announces it was hacked and a trove of sensitive personal data from 29 million users was stolen.
In September, Facebook announced that a security flaw in the site’s “View As” feature gave a hacker access to millions of users’ accounts. The flaw also provided access to any linked accounts, like Instagram, Spotify, Tinder, or Airbnb.
It was immediately dubbed the worst hack in Facebook history, and the #DeleteFacebook movement roared back to life.
Two weeks later, Facebook disclosed that 29 million people were affected, and that stolen data included a mix of highly sensitive personal information, like birth dates, recent “checked-in” locations, phone numbers, search history, and more.
The Wall Street Journal reported that Facebook later concluded the hackers were criminal spammers, not operatives with a political agenda.
October: A report reveals that Android creator Andy Rubin was given a $90 million exit package by Google after he was let go by the company over a sexual misconduct investigation.
Andy Rubin, dubbed the “father of Android.”Getty Images for Wired
In October, new details about Andy Rubin’s 2014 exit from Google were disclosed in a bombshell report by The New York Times.
According to the report, Andy Rubin — the creator of Android, Google’s smartphone operating system — was found to have pressured a woman with whom he had an extramarital relationship into performing oral sex in a hotel room in 2013.
Google’s investigation found the woman’s complaint to be credible, and Rubin was ultimately let go — but not before Google reportedly offered him a $90 million exit package.
October: WhatsApp’s popularity in Brazil is used for widespread sharing of false propaganda, spam messages, and hoaxes ahead of the country’s contentious presidential election.
As Facebook was to the 2016 U.S. presidential election, WhatsApp — a Facebook-owned platform — was the epicenter for Brazil’s presidential election this year.
Ahead of the election, the messaging platform was flooded with forwarded spam messages that spewed misleading information, conspiracy theories, and hoaxes, as well as an illegal fake news campaign.
To put it in perspective, Brazil has a population of 210 million, and 120 million people in Brazil are on WhatsApp.
In the end, the presidency was won by Jair Bolsonaro, a far-right candidate who has pushed extremist views on torture, marriage equality, and violent police tactics.
November: Thousands of Google employees around the world stage a walkout to protest the company’s handling of sexual misconduct cases.
Katie Canales/Business Insider
Thousands of Google employees around the world staged a walkout in November in protest of their company’s handling of sexual misconduct cases.
The walkouts were prompted by The New York Time’s report, which found that Android creator Andy Rubin was given a $90 million exit package by Google after he was let go by the company over a sexual-misconduct investigation.
Protestors made signs to voice their frustrations, including the popular mantra at Google, “Don’t be evil.”
November: A report reveals that Facebook hired a PR firm in an attempt to blame billionaire George Soros for the rise of the anti-Facebook movement.
George Soros.Reuters/Jorge Silva
In November, a New York Times story detailed Facebook’s efforts to connect a slew of anti-Facebook groups to liberal billionaire George Soros, using the Republican-linked public relations firm Definers to push opposition research on Soros to reporters. The campaign was immediately criticized by many as being anti-Semitic.
Less than 24 hours after the Times’ report went public, Facebook announced it had cut ties with Definers. Facebook leadership initially denied any knowledge of the campaign, and outgoing communications lead, Elliot Schrage, later tried to take the blame for hiring Definers — even as Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg quietly said that emails and information about Definers had crossed her desk and inbox.
The implications of the Times exposé are ongoing, with calls for Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and CEO Mark Zuckerberg to step down.
November: Amazon announces it will split up its much-anticipated HQ2 between New York and Virginia.
Samantha Lee/Business Insider
The long process of cities vying to win a bid for Amazon’s second headquarters — dubbed HQ2 — came to end in November with an official announcement: HQ2 would be split between Long Island City, Queens, and Arlington, Virginia.
Amazon’s plans drew ire from various sides. Local politicians slammed the company for asking for major tax breaks and cash grants from cities in the bidding war while ultimately choosing more than one location; nearby residents complained that housing prices would skyrocket in their neighborhoods; and major tech executives denounced the decision-making process for its lack of transparency.
Critics said that Amazon’s splitting of HQ was one big, orchestrated public relations stunt.