These Are The 10 Most Important Tech News Stories Of 2018

In the same year, Apple became the richest company to ever exist, it also forecasted poor iPhone sales for the first time in years and fell victim to a number of disconcerting controversies. It even quickly lost its top spot to Microsoft shortly after its record-breaking announcement. That’s just the kind of year it’s been for Apple.

9. A 7-year-old becomes the highest-earning YouTuber

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It’s been a rocky year for YouTube super-celebrities like PewDiePie and Logan Paul. All the while, the relationship between YouTube and some of its big stars as a whole has been strained further due to changing policies.

Amid the controversy, news broke that a 7-year-old named Ryan had become a millionaire — the current highest-earning YouTuber. The kid runs a delightful YouTube channel called “Ryan ToysReview,” where he’s racked up over 17 million subscribers. Now that’s something we can all get behind.

8. The rise and fall of MoviePass

moviepass giveaway check in

As much as we all love going to the movies, nothing spelled out the uncertain future for theater chains quite like the rise and fall of MoviePass. The subscription model once called “the Netflix of movie theaters” was supposed to give brick-and-mortar cinema a fresh breath of air. Millennials eagerly signed up, pushing the company past 1 million subscribers heading into the beginning of 2018. All seemed well.

From there, controversy after controversy sent MoviePass spiraling into chaos, eventually culminating in a fraud investigation regarding misled investors. On top of that, the roller-coaster ride of changing policies and pricing has been an ongoing cause for disillusionment and frustration. The entire concept may have been too good to be true all along.

7. The year of the Bitcoin roller coaster

what is bitcoin mining

Bitcoin had a similar rise-and-fall story in 2018. Heading into 2018, the cryptocurrency was at the height of its boom, pushing the price of Bitcoin up well over $10,000. The world wasn’t sure what to do or how to react.

But no matter how many crypto enthusiasts and startups repeated the promise, Bitcoin’s value never made it back over $10,000. Today, it hovers just below $4,000, fairly close to where it was in the fall of 2017. The downward trend hasn’t stopped though, and the future of crypto feels as uncertain as ever. If there’s one thing we’ve been left behind with, it’s blockchain, the revolutionary public ledger system Bitcoin is based on.

6. Elon Musk sent a car into space

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The eccentric billionaire didn’t have the greatest year in terms of publicity. Scandal after scandal has mired the once world-saving persona of Elon Musk. But before he abused Twitter to the point of being removed as chairman of Tesla by the Securities and Exchange Commission, he did something that captivated the world.

So, yes. Musk really did send a Tesla Roadster into space, aboard the huge Falcon Heavy rocket. It’s still out there, floating through space beyond the orbit of our planet. It was a sublime moment in the chaos of news, politics, and technology — a moment to stop and celebrate the fact that humanity did something cool just because we could.

5. Net neutrality was officially repealed

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Net neutrality regulations haven’t been around for all that long, first introduced by the Federal Communications Commission in 2015. But just as quick as they appeared, so they were also quickly removed. The ruling was made in late December 2017 under the new FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and officially went into effect in June 2018.

While we haven’t seen any major violations of net neutrality so far (at least none out of the ordinary), multiple states have already introduced their own protections to keep net neutrality enforced. But as it’s been with General Data Protection Regulation, drawing corresponding geographical lines on the internet is complicated, which could mean this fight isn’t quite over. Even with federal regulations pulled back, the future of the carrier-controlled web and content discrimination in 2018 still feels open-ended — and that’s a good thing.

4. Fortnite became a cultural phenomenon

fortnite ninja espn the magazine cover

What can be said about Fortnite that hasn’t already been said? The free-to-play, battle royale hit may have launched in late 2017, but it was throughout out 2018 that it became a cultural phenomenon, far surpassing the game world. Now that it’s available on every platform imaginable (including iOS, Android, and Nintendo Switch), it feels unstoppable, bringing in a reported $3 billion in cash this year.

With homegrown celebrities like Ninja gracing the cover of ESPN and outside entities like Drake popping in to play, it’s safe to say a game has never succeeded in the way Fortnite has.

3. The Spectre/Meltdown processor vulnerabilities affect nearly every computer in use

Spectre Meltdown

Intel’s 2018 has been tumultuous, but it all started with the discovery of a security vulnerability found in just about every processor currently in use. The problem was Intel’s alone to bare. AMD and Arm were equally affected, meaning it was a vulnerability that was nearly inescapable.

The problem extends beyond just the mere existence of the vulnerability. Because of the way these companies responded, the larger question of how the tech industry is held accountable for potentially earth-shattering security issues was brought to the forefront of public thought. Given the amount of data breaches and leaks we get each year, we need all the accountability we can get.

2. NASA’s InSight Lander makes it to Mars

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Nothing brings us together quite like space travel. It’s what President John F. Kennedy knew in 1969, and it feels even more true today.

The robotic lander began its journey in May 2018 and clamped its metallic feet down on the rocky surface of Mars in November. Watching the NASA InSight Lander complete its mission to Mars provided the escapism we all needed. Something about blasting beyond Earth’s orbit allows us to forfeit our own divisions and anxieties among each other. Even for just a short moment, the world stopped its spinning and let us all take a deep breath of inspiration. Thanks, space!

1. Cambridge Analytica forced us to rethink social media, privacy, data, elections, and the future of the internet

Zuckerberg Testimony Congress

Large-scale data scandals are nothing new, especially for Facebook. But the Cambridge Analytica case, in particular, started an important, far-reaching conversation about the future of the internet that none could have seen coming.

To put it simply, an organization called Cambridge Analytica, which has too many international political ties to even attempt to name, created a fake personality quiz on Facebook. Using the information gathered, the organization hijacked the platform to harvest data points for up to 87 million profiles. Using this data, the organization then instructed political campaigns all around the world, most notably with the 2017 U.S. presidential election and the U.K. Brexit campaigns. All of a sudden, social media wasn’t just cat pictures.

More importantly, the scandal opened a new dialogue around social media that expanded to issues of freedom of speech, censorship, news, journalism, and even the nature of democracy in the age of the internet.

The immediate effects have been clear: More attention to third-party applications, login credentials, and data access. The larger issues of social media, privacy, and what we want the future of the internet to be, have only begun to be discussed. Five years from now, the internet might look pretty different — and the Cambridge Analytica data scandal just may have been one of the more significant turning points in that change.

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2018: Tech’s Biggest Stories And What Happened Next

2018 collage

When tech historians of the future look back at 2018, it may stand out as the year that the wheels came off Facebook or at least it’s original platform.

Instagram, WhatsApp, and Oculus all had their troubles but managed to escape the year without seeing their brands trashed in quite the same way as their parent.

So, it’s no surprise to see articles related to Facebook’s various scandals secured it three of the spots in BBC Tech’s most-read stories list for 2018.

Two other controversy magnets – Elon Musk and Huawei – however, narrowly missed out.

And for the first time since we started compiling this list in 2012, none of the placings went to a product launch.

Below are the most clicked on articles for each month of the year – a mix of controversy, endeavor and sparkly revenge.

short presentational grey lineComputer chip in flames

Software flaws have long been a bane of computing, but when news emerged of serious vulnerabilities in popular processor chips there was a serious intake of breath from the cyber-security community.

Billions of PCs, smartphones and other devices were said to be susceptible to the Meltdown and Spectre bugs – including, as it emerged, Apple’s products. At one point there was talk of owners having to brace themselves for their machines feeling noticeably more sluggish as a result of the workarounds that would be needed or even needing to send their computers in for component swap-outs.

A year on, there doesn’t appear to have been any malware related to the flaws reported in the wild, even though further variants of the originally disclosed exploits have been discovered. And as far as personal computers are concerned, the patches released don’t appear to have caused much of a hit to performance.

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Emma Watson

Deepfakes gave the internet something else to worry about in February after it emerged that free software meant anyone could replace the face of one person with another’s in video footage so long as you had enough photos of the latter. Inevitably, the tool was used to create pornography with a range of predominantly young female celebrities’ features generated to supplant those of the original adult actresses. One after another website lined up to ban the content until Reddit, which had been home to much of it, decided to do likewise.

As the algorithms involved have improved, there has been much discussion about the danger of fake news creators adopting the face-mapping technique to create bogus videos of politicians.

But there’s another worrying trend. It appears that some Deepfakers are attempting to scrape social media for images of acquaintances that they can turn into pornography, and have been sharing details of their progress in chat forums.short presentational grey lineMark Zuckeberg

Donald Trump’s election in 2016 helped put Cambridge Analytica in the public eye after reports that its psychological profiles of US voters had helped his campaign target messages. But the London-based consultancy only became a household name after a report in the Observer explained how the firm had made use of millions of harvested Facebook accounts’ details, while a follow-up Channel 4 TV report recorded the consultancy’s chief on tape discussing how beautiful girls could be sent to a politician’s house as a honey-trap.

Facebook also found itself in the firing line. It didn’t help itself by first trying to suppress the story and then quibbling over whether it warranted being described as a “data breach”.

When Mark Zuckerberg did finally apologize several days later, he made a promise that has been repeatedly thrown back at him since.

“We have a responsibility to protect your data, and if we can’t then we don’t deserve to serve you,” he said.

short presentational grey lineLeaky Facebook

By early April, Facebook was estimating that up to 87 million of its members’ details had been improperly shared with Cambridge Analytica. More than a million of them were thought to belong to UK-based users.

This was based on the number of accounts that an academic at the University of Cambridge – Dr. Aleksandr Kogan – had harvested from the social network via a personality quiz. Soon after, Cambridge Analytica responded that its parent, SCL Elections, had in fact “only” licensed 30 million people’s records from Dr. Kogan, and all, it said, had been from US citizens.

That wasn’t enough to save it – the political consultancy folded in May.

But it now forms part of Facebook’s defence against a fine from the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office, which was imposed despite the watchdog acknowledging that it had found no evidence that UK citizens’ data had been passed to Cambridge Analytica.

The £500,000 amount is peanuts to the social network – it makes more in half an hour, and the reputational damage it has incurred has arguably been far more costly.

But Facebook is concerned that the penalty could set a precedent for other data regulators to follow.

short presentational grey lineJohn Bain

The British video games critic John “TotalBiscuit” Bain had first told his fans and wider following that he had cancer in 2015.

By April 2018 the 33-year-old had announced he was retiring from journalism as the medication he was on was preventing him from thinking clearly. Even so, his death shocked and saddened many of his 2.2 million YouTube fans when it was confirmed. The obituaries that followed mostly focused on how he had championed indie games and criticized some of their bigger-budgeted rivals, which he had said sometimes prioritized profit over all else.

But on social media and in some later articles, there was criticism of the role Mr. Bain had played in the GamerGate movement.

It was claimed he had given legitimacy to a misogynistic campaign that had been responsible for the harassment of others. But this, in turn, spurred on his supporters to defend his legacy. They said his involvement had been mischaracterized and noted that Mr. Bain had called for ethics in games journalism for several years before GamerGate existed.

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The phrase “the cloud” conjures up images of our data being stored in some nebulous form high above us. In reality, tech firms are investing billions of pounds in racks of computer servers housed in gigantic data centers across the globe to power the apps we use and internet services we call on. For the most part, these are built at ground-level. But in June, Microsoft sank an experimental data centre into the sea off Orkney in the north of Scotland. The idea is to reduce cooling costs by keeping the equipment in a sealed vault underwater. The tech giant intends to monitor Project Natick for five years to see if the scheme is a practical proposition for a wider rollout.

Google TensorFlow processors

But elsewhere, Google revealed it had already made the switch to liquid-cooling to tackle the heat given off by its latest artificial intelligence-focused computer servers. But rather than dropping its equipment overboard, it is piping coolant to each chip.short presentational grey line

Lindsay Durdle

PayPal was guilty of a major faux pas when it wrote to Lindsay Durdle, one of its recently deceased customers, to say her death was a breach of its rules. To make matters worse, it added that it might take legal action as a consequence. Her husband Howard Durdle was appalled, and to be fair so was PayPal’s PR team when the BBC brought the matter to its attention. Although the firm was unable to confirm exactly what had gone wrong it attempted to make good on the situation by writing off a debt his wife had owed.

“PayPal has been in touch, have apologized sincerely and have promised to change whatever they need to internally to ensure this can’t happen again,” Mr. Durdle tweeted after the BBC’s article was published. “I just hope more organizations can apply empathy and common sense to avoid hurting the recently bereaved.”

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As official statements go, the US State Department’s wasn’t the most reassuring: “We don’t know for certain what it is and there is no way to verify it.” The subject was a Russian satellite that had been launched 10 months earlier and was displaying abnormal behavior. One US official suggested it could be a space weapon designed to destroy other satellites – an allegation a Russian diplomat slammed as being “unfounded [and] slanderous”.

For those who track such developments, the US’s suspicions echoed those raised about another Russian launch four years earlier when what was thought to be a bit of debris started zipping about in orbit. In any case, at the end of the year, we are officially none the wiser about the objects true capabilities. But with the Trump administration pursuing its own plan to create a Space Force by 2020, off-planet militarisation looks set to remain a hot topic.

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View As flaw

With the Cambridge Analytica scandal still rattling along, Facebook revealed that a separate problem had exposed almost 50 million accounts to being hijacked.

The cause was a vulnerability in the code of its View As privacy facility, which was designed to let users see what their profile looked like to others. At the time, Facebook said it was “temporarily turning off” the tool while it conducted a review. Three months on, it remains disabled.

The firm did, however, revise its estimate down to 30 million accounts.

While we’re on the topic, here are some of Facebook’s other controversies in 2018:

  • being accused by the UN of having played a “determining role” in stirring up hatred against Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims
  • being sued by advertisers who alleged the firm took more than a year to disclose its video view figures had been over-estimated after discovering the problem. Facebook says the complaint is “without merit”
  • getting into a spat with the philanthropist George Soros after chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg questioned if the billionaire was shorting Facebook’s stock because he had described it as a “menace”
  • losing WhatsApp’s co-founders over a privacy clash, and then Instagram’s two co-founders because of other tensions
  • launching first a dating service and then Portal, a video chat device for the home, while still embroiled with its various privacy breaches, leading to suggestions the company was “tone deaf”
  • having details of its data-sharing practices with other companies revealed via a series of newspaper exposes and a House of Commons parliamentary committee
  • Mark Zuckerberg telling Congress that he was not familiar with the phrase “shadow profiles” – a term used to refer to information gathered about non-members – despite the fact complaints had been made against the practice since at least 2011
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iPhone XS

Many of us have experienced the sinking feeling that comes from leaving the home in the morning to discover your smartphone battery never recharged overnight. Typically, it’s a case of failing to properly plug the handset in. But a YouTuber’s tests of the latest iPhones indicated some of the new devices only topped up their power if their displays were “woken up” first. Inevitably this was dubbed “chargegate”, and when the BBC published its take on the issue Apple had yet to comment. But a week later, when it released the next version of its mobile operating system, Apple’s accompanying notes confirmed it had fixed a bug that had caused the flaw.

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Google walkout

At the start of the year, the Time’s Up movement was founded to take a stand against sexual assault, harassment, and inequality in the workplace. It was a response to the allegations against Harvey Weinstein but also marked an effort to tackle problems faced by women more widely. Eleven months later, seven of Google’s employees declared “time’s up” on the tech giant after accusations of misconduct emerged involving two past male high-fliers as well as dozens of other staff. As a result, workers at Google’s offices across the world staged a series of walkouts. Managers were delivered a set of demands, including a call to end the firm’s requirement that sexual harassment disputes be dealt with internally.

About a week later, Google’s chief Sundar Pichai confirmed that the business would indeed stop its policy of forced arbitration, opening the door to it being sued over the matter in the future.

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Glitter bomb

The internet fell in love with a revenge prank staged by an ex-Nasa engineer earlier this month. After having a package stolen from his porch, Mark Rober constructed a “bomb” that married a centrifugal motor, lots of glitters, fart spray and several smartphones. He then hid the device within an Apple Homepod speaker box and left it on his porch. When thieves subsequently stole it, it recorded the moment it sprayed them with its contents. After which, Mr. Rober retrieved the package and repeated the exercise. In an ideal world, the story would have ended there, with Mr. Rober’s YouTube fame assured thanks to the compilation video he made. But a couple of days after uploading the footage, the inventor replaced the video with a shorter edit.

Some viewers had voiced suspicions about parts of the footage, and Mr. Rober acknowledged that when he had chased up their concerns he had discovered that one of his helpers had recruited acquaintances to pose as two of the five featured thieves.

“I’m especially gutted because so much thought, time, money and effort went into building the device and I hope this doesn’t just taint the entire effort as ‘fake’,” he tweeted. Most viewers seem to have been forgiving, but it’s unfortunate that what was a fun stunt might cause many to be more suspicious and cynical about what they see online in the future.

 

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Facebook Sued By Top Prosecutor Over Cambridge Analytica

Facebook

Washington DC’s top prosecutor is suing Facebook in the first significant US move to punish the firm for its role in the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine filed the lawsuit on Wednesday, said the Washington Post.

It accused Facebook of allowing the wholesale scraping of personal data on tens of millions of users. The action adds to a number of regulatory investigations, following a year of privacy and security missteps. A Facebook spokesperson told the BBC: “We’re reviewing the complaint and look forward to continuing our discussions with attorneys general in DC and elsewhere.” As well as this lawsuit, Facebook is being probed by the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice.

In the UK, the company was fined £500,000 over the Cambridge Analytica scandal, the maximum fine the British data regulator can impose. Bigger trouble may arise from the Irish data protection regulator, which is investigating Facebook for multiple admissions of security flaws, in what is being seen as the first major test of Europe’s new privacy rules as dictated by the General Data Protection Regulation.

According to the Post, the DC attorney general’s action could be amended to include more recent data security admissions, including more revelations published on Wednesday by the New York Times.

 

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New Facebook Bug Exposed 6.8 Million Users Photos To Third-Party Apps

facebook api leak

Facebook’s latest screw-up — a programming bug in Facebook website accidentally gave 1,500 third-party apps access to the unposted Facebook photos of as many as 6.8 million users.

Facebook today quietly announced that it discovered a new API bug in its photo-sharing system that let 876 developers access users’ private photos which they never shared on their timeline, including images uploaded to Marketplace or Facebook Stories.

“When someone gives permission for an app to access their photos on Facebook, we usually only grant the app access to photos people share on their timeline. In this case, the bug potentially gave developers access to other photos, such as those shared on Marketplace or Facebook Stories,” Facebook said.

What’s worse? The bug even exposed photos that people uploaded to Facebook but chose not to post or didn’t finish posting it for some reason. The flaw left users’ private data exposed for 12 days, between September 13th and September 25th, until Facebook discovered and fixed the security blunder on the 25th September.

“Currently, we believe this may have affected up to 6.8 million users and up to 1,500 apps built by 876 developers. The only apps affected by this bug were ones that Facebook approved to access the photos API and that individuals had authorized to access their photos,” Facebook said.

facebook photo API leak

The social media giant has started notifying impacted users of the flaw through an alert on their Facebook timeline that their photos may have been exposed, which will direct them to its Help Center page with more information.
Facebook also says the social media network will soon be rolling out “tools for app developers that will allow them to determine which people using their app might be impacted by this bug.” Facebook also assures its users that the company will be working with app developers to delete copies of photos that they were not supposed to access.

2018 has been quite a terrible year for Facebook with the social media giant found dealing with a slew of security incidents this year—the most significant one being the Cambridge Analytic scandal that exposed personal data of 87 million Facebook users.

The social network also suffered its worst-ever security breach in September this year that exposed highly sensitive data of 14 million users. In the same month, Facebook also addressed a similar severe API bug that was actively being exploited by unknown hackers to steal secret access tokens and gather personal information for 30 million Facebook users. In June, Facebook also suffered another security issue affecting 14 million users, wherein users’ posts that were meant to be private became public. These security incidents came out to be a failure of the social media giant in keeping the personal information of its 2.2 billion users protected while generating billions of dollars in revenue from the same information.

 

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