Tech Winners and Losers of 2014


Life’s never dull in the technology space, with company takeovers, new product launches, senior management changes and security breaches occurring on – what feels like – a near daily basis. The past 12 months has seen plenty of these scenarios play out in the IT industry, with devastating consequences for some and positive outcomes for others. With this in mind, these are the tech industry’s winners and losers in 2014.


Wearable technology 2014 look set to be the year where vendors stopped talking up wearable technology products, and actually started releasing some, but it didn’t quite pan out that way.

While Apple and Google both unveiled their first ventures into this area (in the form of the Apple Watch and Google Glass respectively), both products are earmarked for unspecified general release dates in 2015, but precise details are scarce right now. High cost and ugly designs have repeatedly been cited this year as reasons why the wearable tech trend hasn’t quite set the world alight, but there’s always 2015, right?

Sony Pictures The hacking community had a bumper year in 2014 by managing to take down high-profile targets including online auction site eBay and US retailer Target, to name but a few.

However, the largest, most wide-ranging and – potentially – the most damaging was the one involving Sony Pictures in November. Members of the self-styled Guardians of Peace hacking collective breached the firm’s computer network, stole company documents and emails by the hundreds and then proceeded to dump them on torrent sites.

North Korea has been cited as the source of the attack, after the hackers made repeated references to Sony Pictures’ forthcoming comedy film The Interview, the story of which centers on a fictional assassination plot involving North Korean leader Kim-Jong Un. The hack took an even more sinister turn earlier this month, with the perpetrators threatening “9/11-style” attacks on cinemas that showed the film, prompting Sony to pull its release altogether.

HP While its five-year turnaround plan continues apace, the tech giant has faced some tough decisions this year to safeguard the company’s future, resulting in widespread job cuts. In October, HP announced plans to hive-off its PC and printing business from its wider enterprise hardware and services arm at a cost of another 5,000 jobs. The move came as a surprise to many, given the backlash it suffered several years ago when former CEO Leo Apotheker proposed a similar move.

Uber While the number of people downloading the Uber taxi finder app has sky-rocketed this year, the company, its senior management and its operating methods have all come under fire. Thousands of black cab drivers took part in an hour-long protest against Uber’s method of working out the cost of fares that saw central London brought to a standstill in June.

The company has also garnered complaints about the way it treats journalists, after one of its executives suggested hiring a team of researchers to “dig up dirt” about those who write bad stories about the firm. And, if all that wasn’t bad enough, Uber faced a monumental backlash in December after its surge pricing system, whereby the cost of fares grows in line with demand, kicked in during the Sydney hostage crisis. This meant people using its service to escape the scene were charged around four times the normal fare.

Samsung After wowing smartphone buyers with its flagship Samsung Galaxy S3 and S4 handsets in 2012 and 2013, respectively, the South Korean tech giant was widely expected to replicate the sales figures notched up by these devices with the S5. Despite a striking re-design, the introduction of biometric security, a heartrate monitor, and a wealth of other bells and whistles that garnered favorable reviews, sales of the S5 fell short of analyst expectations.

Just to round off a bad year for the firm, December saw analyst house Gartner unveil its latest smartphone market tracker, which also revealed Samsung had lost 8 per cent of its global market share because of a fall in demand for its products in China.

iCloud Cloud security worriers were gifted a fairly credible reason about the integrity of off-premise storage this year, after hackers managed to side-step Apple’s iCloud log-in procedures and leak naked pictures of a host of female celebrities online. The fallout from it prompted Apple to issue assurances in September 2014 that it was tightening up security around its flagship cloud storage service.


Blackberry After what can only be described as a disastrous 2013 for BlackBerry, the past 12 months have been considerably better for the Canadian smartphone maker. While the previous year saw the firm hit with multi-million inventory charges, senior management changes, and an abortive attempt to acquire the firm by its largest shareholder, 2014 has seen it embark on a concerted push to reconnect with enterprise users to very positive effect.

This has resulted in the release of the eye-catching BlackBerry Passport, which has chalked up better-than expected sales, and lofty predictions about a return-to-growth for the firm in the not too distant future.

Mojang Even if hadn’t been acquired by Microsoft, it’s highly likely games developer Mojang would have made it on to our 2014 winners list, based on the continued popularity of its flagship offering Minecraft. The game is said to have 100 million registered users, and saw its user base widen considerably this year with its release on the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One consoles.

Microsoft coughed up $2.5 billion for Mojang earlier this year to safeguard the game’s availability on Windows PCs and phones in the future, and – we assume – ensure Mojang’s senior management enjoys a very nice Christmas.

WhatsApp It’s fair to say WhatsApp’s 450 million-plus users were a little skeptical about how honorable Facebook’s intentions were when news first broke that it was planning to buy the IM service in February. With fears abounding that Facebook might opt to shut the service down and incorporate it into its own Messenger service, or even start charging users to send missives to each other, the WhatsApp user base wasn’t happy.

In response, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg promised users the service will operate as it always has done and continue to do so as a standalone entity. And since the $22 billion deal was finally waved through by regulators in October 2014, he’s shown no signs of backtracking on this.

Hackers 2014 has certainly been a busy one for the hacking community, with a series of high-profile attacks on the likes of Sony Pictures, iCloud and eBay causing massive disruption to their operations and – not to mention – reputations.

While vendors and industry types often predict cyber-attacks will grow in complexity and sophistication as time goes on, these three provide solid evidence that this is a trend that’s already occurring.


The Legal Road to Driverless Cars


Just last week, Google had announced their “first real build” of a self-driving vehicle. Driverless cars could save thousands of lives a year in the U.S. alone and also provide significant economic and environmental advantages. But the road to these benefits is full of technological and regulatory curves.

In its announcement, Google has said the vehicle it previously revealed in May was an “early mockup.” This version brings together all the elements of the car in what is the first fully functional form of the vehicle. While Google hopes to have the new cars on the streets of California next year, the California DMV recently acknowledged it will miss a year-end deadline to adopt rules for this new form of transportation due to safety concerns.

In the last several years, 17 states including D.C. have considered legislation authorizing self-driving cars, but only California, Florida, Nevada, and Washington, D.C. have enacted any form of law. While seven other companies are testing driverless cars, Google “is largely the force behind much of this self-driving legalization movement” according to In September, the CA DMV issued testing permits for three companies to test 29 vehicles on public roads, with humans behind the wheel in case of computerized error or poor decision making. These permits acted to formalize a process that was already underway, as Google has logged around one million driverless miles of testing in recent years.

DMV officials say the public won’t be permitted to use self-driving cars until it can be certified they don’t pose “an undue risk.” With the technology being so new, part of the problem is that regulations don’t have safety standards to abide by — as of yet there aren’t any federal safety standards or independent safety testing organizations.

The California DMV has three main enforcement paths it could pursue:

It could follow the current U.S. system, in which manufacturers self-certify their vehicles; it could opt for a European system, in which independent companies verify safety; or the state could (implausibly) get into the testing business.

Some of the questions that need to be addressed include determining which traffic laws must be enforced, what happens if and when computers freeze up or are hijacked, and how to manage alternating control between the car and the human driver. There’s also the question of whether a person needs to be in the vehicle at all, let alone a licensed driver. Despite these concerns, there is a general consensus that driverless cars should be safer than human-driven vehicles.

California is a leader in transportation and vehicle regulation. Their policies are often adopted at the national level, as has been the case with many fuel standards. In this instance the state is trying to get out ahead of a potentially revolutionary shift in transportation methods, as opposed to playing catch-up as many regions are now doing with rideshare services like Uber.

There may also be some climate and environmental benefits of driverless cars should they come to rule the road. Self-driving cars are highly efficient, could be powered by alternative forms of energy, and are deferential to pedestrians and people on bikes, which could help boost those forms of transportation. However, driverless cars could also make urban sprawl more appealing as cheaper, more convenient rides could encourage lower-density living and even hinder or reverse investment in public  transportation infrastructure. Nonetheless, a recent study by the Rocky Mountain Institute found that when self-driving vehicles are combined with car sharing methods and new vehicle materials, overall CO2 emissions could drop “by up to 95 percent, even when considering the CO2 emitted from the electricity generation.”

Did the US Shut Off Internet for North Korea?


North Korea’s connection to the public Internet went down Monday, after U.S. officials promised a “proportional response” to the nation’s alleged cyberattack on Sony Pictures Entertainment.

Matthew Prince, chief executive of Cloudflare, a network and security company that monitors global Web access, said it’s conceivable. His engineers confirmed North Korea started losing its Internet connection to the outside world early Monday East Coast time, and was still down at mid-day.

Dyn, which monitors Internet performance, said its tests found North Korean Internet addresses unreachable since 11:15 a.m. ET. But Prince said there are more likely scenarios. Here are three:

Option One: North Korea shut off its own Internet access. Sounds crazy by U.S. standards but tightly controlled regimes, such as Syria, have a history of severing connections during tense moments on the world stage. Doing so would prevent the few North Koreans with Internet access from reading about the current crisis over the Sony hack and would block any incoming cyberattack from the U.S. or its allies.

Option Two: China shut off North Korea’s Internet access. North Korea gets its Internet access through China Unicom, the mainland telecommunications giant, in Shenyang, China. U.S. officials have said they are reaching out to China to pressure North Korea over its alleged involvement in the Sony hack.

Option Three: Someone is interfering with North Korea’s Internet traffic. Since North Korea has just one main connection to the global Internet, it would be possible for an outsider such as a foreign government or mischievous hackers to overload North Korea’s broadband connection with malicious traffic.

What do you guys think happened to North Korea’s internet access?

Suing Google


Google is a fierce and capricious God, swift to anger and once angered impossible to placate. A rash of recent law suits speaks to this issue very clearly.  The problem is this: Google has long complicated and exhaustive rules for publishers displaying their ads. Those rules allow them to ban any publisher for pretty much any or no reason and once banned that publisher can has no chance of getting paid on the ads it had generated revenue on.

The Poster Child for this problem is These guys racked up over a million dollars of Adsense revenue which Google refused to pay because Google claimed that they had breeched their Ts and Cs. Pubshare is suing to get paid. Part of the problem is that Google has allowed various of these publishers to accumulate a very large exposure before shutting them down and refusing to pay. One might think that given the level of attention and automation common at Google they might have some robots tasked to look for just these problems. Google has long since made it more or less impossible to syndicate their actual search ads but AdSense (meager tho it often is) has represented a way for sites of all sizes to generate some revenue in addition to what ever banner inventory they may have.

These kinds of cases are understandably devastating to the businesses involved but of minimal concern to Google because their Ts&Cs essentially grant them all the power they could possibly need. The problem Google has is that the law of the land may not agree with that power and this kind of horrible publicity is likely to make some people with really good traffic to think twice before putting all their revenue eggs in the Google basket. For now the judge involved is letting the case continue it will be interesting to see where it ends up.

The right to search?

It’s a weird thing, how we have come to think of search as some kind of inalienable human right…like life liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It’s not.  There is no God given right for anything to be indexed or made search-able and there is no right or requirement to put any result anywhere. This issue has been a recurring theme throughout this year. Although the authorities in the US have consistently ruled on the side of Google against those calling foul over monopoly various European bodies have continued to attempt to fine Google or force them to return results differently. Perhaps the highest profile of these spats was the “right to be forgotten” and only this week Google unceremoniously booted all Spanish news content from its news index (although much of it can still be found in the main Spanish search).

Google is not touting a “buy it now” feature on its shopping search to retailers to allow end users the kind of one click ordering straight from the search results page which would be similar to what we have come to know and love from Amazon. Google has also been layering other kinds of offers around and above the inevitable Amazon result for almost any shipping search you care to carryout. No sooner has this feature come to light then the usual suspects are once again are yelling monopoly.

I have nothing against Amazon, I’m a constant Prime user, but I wouldn’t be offended if the Amazon result was pushed down in the search result…because I know I can always go straight to Amazon. Search is notoriously tough to do well and love them or hate them Google does it very well. Having said that it’s also voluntary…if various world governments want to force Google to publish their algorithms or force them to pay for news snippets I expect Google to respond as they did this week by simply shutting down that part of the service in that part of the world.

Google is too big to be stopped and on the whole does an amazing job. Are they an evil monopoly…maybe…but they are very good at being that. This year coming I expect to see either a bunch of potential trade disputes over search to gently fade away or a bunch of countries loosing access to the best search out there. It will be interesting to see who blinks first.

Hold the Front Page


Google is locking Spanish publishers out of its popular Google News service in response to a new Spanish law that imposes fees for linking to the headlines and news stories on other websites.

Besides closing Google News in Spain, Google Inc. also is blocking reports from Spanish publishers in the more than other 70 other international editions packaged by Google News. Google News’ exile of Spanish publishers begins Dec. 16, a couple weeks before the start of a Spanish intellectual-property law requiring news publishers to be paid for their content, even if they are willing to give it away.

That means people in Latin America, where Spanish news organizations have sought to boost their digital audiences, won’t see news from Spain via Google News. Also set to disappear are reports in English from Spanish publishers like Madrid’s leading El Pais newspaper.

The lost access to Google News will likely make it more difficult for people to keep afloat on what it is happening in Spain. Spanish publishers also may lose a valuable source of traffic to their websites. Google says its main search engine and other services generate more than 10 billion monthly clicks that send Web surfers to other news sites throughout the world. Google News accounts for about 10 percent, or 1 billion clicks, of that worldwide volume.

Spain’s new law is designed to create a new source of revenue for the country’s publishers, who, like most of their peers around the world, have been hard hit as more readers and advertisers have abandoned printed editions for digital alternatives during the past decade.

The shift has hurt news publishers because digital ads aren’t nearly as lucrative as print ads. But the linking fees could now backfire if the lost access to Google News diminishes the traffic to Spanish news publishers, making it even more difficult for them to sell digital ads.

Even though Google News doesn’t display ads, it still helps Google make more money by deepening people’s loyalty to its products. The ads that Google distributes through its other services and other websites, including those run by news publishers, account for most of the company’s projected revenue of $66 billion this year.

The Pirate Ship May Float On


In the late hours of Tuesday night, the Pirate Bay abruptly disappeared from the Internet, the result of a surprise raid on the site’s servers by Swedish police in Stockholm.

But forget the big-picture questions of Internet freedom or intellectual property. The real problem, for millions of Internet-users, is how am I going to watch TV?

The Pirate Bay is as much an idea and an orientation to entertainment media as it is/was a torrent-tracking site. Sure, the Pirate Bay technically indexed torrents, a peer-to-peer file format popular for sharing movies, music and other oversized files. But since its launch in 2003, the world’s “most notorious file-sharing site” has done something a bit more significant, and a bit more permanent, too: It’s made digital piracy a casual, inarguable part of the mainstream.

During just one month in 2013, more than 340 million people tried to download illegal content, an industry report claimed. In North America, Europe and Asia — the regions where most infringement comes from — that averages out to one in four Internet users.

It wasn’t always this way, of course. Before the birth of the torrent protocol in the earlier parts of this century, sharing big files, like TV shows or movies was virtually impossible. But even then, an American guy named Bram Cohen invented, essentially, a new way for computers to communicate data and named it BitTorrent. Less than two years later, in November 2003, just as BitTorrent was starting to gain steam, a little-known group of Swedish activists launched a site to help people find and access these shared BitTorrent files.

Pirate Bay wasn’t the first torrenting site, by any means — but it quickly became the largest, and the one that stuck around. (It’s no coincidence that the popularity of the phrase “torrent download” grew, in lockstep, with the profile of Pirate Bay.) It helped, probably, that Pirate Bay was initially operated by Piratbyran, a sort of pro-piracy think tank, which lobbied extensively against intellectual property law and wanted to popularize torrenting for “moral and political” reasons. In other words, they had the courage of conviction on their side.

Even when The Pirate Bay split off from Piratbyran shortly after its founding, administrators for the site remained involved with the group, circulating petitions, hosting rallies and publishing on “the practical, moral and philosophical issues of file sharing.” And even when law enforcement and industry groups began going after the Pirate Bay — the site was first raided in 2006, and its founders arrested and charged with aiding copyright infringement three years later — the site stayed online, moving frequently to new domains and changing to a more secure, cloud-based infrastructure in 2012.

And yet, despite all these threats, torrenting — on Pirate Bay, the largest torrenting portal, and off it — has only become more popular and more entrenched. Between 2011 and 2013, for instance, unique users on torrenting sites jumped 23.6 percent. There are now tens of millions of people accustomed to getting their “Game of Thrones” and “Breaking Bad” and “Walking Dead” illegally, online. In fact, more people watch “Game of Thrones” by torrent than watch it on HBO — a figure that, more than any other, should hammer in how well-entrenched this whole digital-piracy thing is.

Pirate Bay could very well come back online soon; there’s certainly no evidence, at this juncture, to suggest that it won’t, and the site has bounced back from several such hurdles before. But even if TPB doesn’t return, the politics and the conventions it advanced — that content should be free, and if you torrent, they can be! — will be very difficult to eradicate.

You may be able to shut down Pirate Bay, but good luck raiding the Internet that Pirate Bay created.

Is North Korea Really Behind the Sony Hacks?


There’s plenty of rumors and speculation, but one thing is certain: something has gone awfully wrong with the computer systems at Sony Pictures Entertainment – the television and movie subsidiary of the huge Sony Corporation.

The company has shut down its servers, after a ghoulish skull appeared on computer screens alongside a claim that internal data had been stolen and would be released if undisclosed “demands” were not met.

In parallel, Twitter accounts used by Sony to promote movies were hacked to display messages attacking Sony Entertainment’s CEO from a group calling itself GOP (the Guardians of Peace) who claimed responsibility for the hack.

11 terabytes of information had been stolen by hackers from Sony Pictures, and even tweeted a photograph of a sign placed in the lift of Sony Pictures’ London office asking staff not to use their computers or log into the Wi-Fi. If hackers have indeed hijacked Sony Pictures’ network, and stolen a large amount of data, it all sounds very dramatic, but the most the company has said publicly is that it is investigating an “IT matter.” The absence of hard facts about the hack has inevitably led to reporters filling in the vacuum with some guesswork and, in some cases, speculation that may be have shaky foundations.

For instance, one report claimed that Sony Pictures was exploring the possibility that North Korean hackers could be behind the attack – because of anger over an upcoming comedy film featuring Seth Rogan and James Franco working with the CIA to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un.

It does appear that North Korea is genuinely unhappy about the movie, but does it really seem likely that that would motivate what appears to be a widespread attack against the Sony Pictures computer network?

That hasn’t stopped other media outlets from repeating the original claim of a North Korean link without much in the way of questioning, churning out the same “news” without considering just how tricky it might be to attribute the attack to any particular country – especially when the victim itself appears to still be mid-recovery and mopping up the mess.

Does North Korea use the internet to spy on other countries? Is it possible that hackers sympathetic to North Korea (or simply people who aren’t fans of Seth Rogan) might want to disrupt Sony Pictures’ activities? Hopefully until we know the answer, Sony will do its duty to inform the public of what information has been compromised.

Wearable Meets Civil rights


I own a wearable civil rights activist, well actually I don’t.  I have the poor mans GoPro the MuVi camera. It’s an excellent low cost HD video camera, sold as a police body camera. I put a 32 GB card in it and although the battery life isn’t long enough to last a full 8 hour shift it could easily cover the likely face time I might spend interacting with the public. It also has sound activation, so the moment anything more than silence occurs it kicks on pretty seamlessly. This clever piece of tech costs about $150 retail…including a high capacity card.

There are roughly 450,000 cops in the US (seems like a lot but that what the official numbers are).  Let’s assume that at any one time 1/3 of those cops are out and about.  By my math we could equip every operational cop in the US with an excellent body cam for a little over 22 million dollars. Since we have apparently already found the money to equip our civilian police force with enough body armor and automatic weapons to arm a major third world dictator (for I’m guessing a lot more than $22MM) there is absolutely no reason not to equip our police with these simple but wildly effective devices.

That it should come to this is sad…and I sympathize with the protesters who claim that if the death by cop of Eric Garner captured on camera couldn’t result in a Grand Jury indictment then putting an electronic muzzle on our out of control police force won’t make a difference. However in the same way that “the spy in the cab” installed in every one of the 16 wheelers on our freeways greatly cut down the crashes caused by truckers driving for thirty hours straight, I firmly believe body cameras will make a significant and immediate difference.

This isn’t a tech problem, it’s not “a black problem” it’s an American problem. We have armed the guys who couldn’t get the grades to go to college with sophisticated weapons, given them impunity and “hero” status. They aren’t, they are, in many cases, blue collar guys with way to much power an institutional disregard for our civil rights and a cultural contempt for certain parts of our society.

We can’t fix the roots of this problem quickly. This problem has been brewing for several decades.  We can’t un-ring the bell of a post a Jim Crow culture of separate and not equal and the damage done by the failed ‘war on drugs.’ That harm is done…we can perhaps heal over time…I hope so.

What we can do (for less than one eighth of the cost of a single F16 fighter jet)  is bring some measure of wearable accountability to the people who are suppose to protect and serve us all.