The world wide web of trouble


London - There were many technological triumphs to celebrate last year, from the geek chic of the Raspberry Pi computer to the mini-tablet shoot-out between Google’s Nexus 7 and Apple’s iPad Mini.

But if there was one emotion that characterised the year in technology, it was ‘‘being a bit cross’’. Last year had more than its fair share of technology-related fury.

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Apple's customers were miffed when they upgraded their iPhone to a brand new operating system, iOS6, only to discover that the Maps application  previously a reliable product made by Google  had been replaced with its own effort, a risible piece of software.

Anonymous, the online group that is seen as either a bunch of righteous vigilantes or an “internet hate machine”, spent much of the year fuming and bringing down websites of organisations they deemed to be bulldozing their internet playground.

The shutdown by the US Department of Justice of Megaupload, a file-locker website used mainly for sharing pirated content, led to the “single largest internet attack” in Anonymous’s history, with Universal, Warner Bros, the FBI and many others targeted.

Attempts by law-enforcement agencies to shut down sites, such as Megaupload, are usually characterised as pointless, never-ending games of Whack-A-Mole, but Megaupload’s closure did prompt similar services to either shut down or change their business model. The Motion Picture Association of America deemed the action to have been a great success.

Apple was furious with Samsung, and Samsung was furious with Apple. By July there were some 50 lawsuits between the two companies over alleged infringements of intellectual property, from the curve of gadgets’ corners to the ‘‘overscroll bounce’’ we see when we swipe our screens too quickly.

Who won? Well, a South Korean court said Apple, the Japanese said Samsung, British judges found in favour of Samsung and demanded that Apple apologise – although Judge Colin Birss’s pronouncement that Samsung’s products weren’t “cool” enough to be mistaken for Apple’s soured the victory.

But the big win for Apple came in the US, with $1 billion (R8.5bn) in damages awarded to the Cupertino giant. As the verdict was given, bigger arguments raged over the relentless amassing of patents by technology corporations, the stifling of innovation caused by patent wars and whether lay juries should be used in patent trials – arguments that will rumble on for years to come.

Apple’s customers were miffed when they upgraded their iPhone to a brand new operating system, iOS6, only to discover that the Maps application – previously a reliable product made by Google – had been replaced with Apple’s own effort, a risible piece of software.

Whether multiple versions of the same landmark were situated in the wrong postcode, or defunct businesses were positioned 20 doors away from where they used to be, the errors within Maps were a PR disaster for Apple.

The replacement was seen as insulting by many customers. Chief executive Tim Cook issued a public apology, while Scott Forstall, the head of the division responsible for the debacle, was removed from his post in October.

Facebook saw its billionth user sign up to the service in October, but this was scant consolation for the shareholders who’d invested in the company in May and had watched the share price tumble – at one point to less than 50 percent of its original level. Some filed lawsuits, complaining that weakened growth forecasts hadn’t been disclosed, while pundits reminded us of the dotcom boom when people were throwing money at overvalued companies.

The power and value of social media couldn’t be ignored in 2012. The Olympic Games became the ‘‘Social Olympics’’ as the names of Usain Bolt, Jessica Ennis, Gabby Douglas and Oscar Pistorius reverberated across the internet.

US President Barack Obama, triumphed in the ‘‘Social Election’’ – a picture featuring him in a post-victory embrace with the First Lady becoming the most tweeted in history, and reminding us that there is a softer side to the internet. You just don’t see it often. – The Independent

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