- 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.
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 $US245 million in equity.
- Read more:
- Read the text messages from Travis Kalanick and Anthony Levandowski that Uber fought to keep sealed in its legal battle with Waymo
- Uber and Waymo are finally going to trial in an epic war over self-driving tech that could reshape Silicon Valley
- Google spinoff Waymo calls Uber a bunch of cheaters as the long-awaited self-driving car trial kicks off
- The Silicon Valley judge presiding over the Uber and Waymo is so full of blistering criticisms that he’s getting his own fan base
- Uber and Waymo have reached a $US245 million settlement in their massive legal fight over self-driving-car technology
March: Google’s Project Maven contract to partner with the Department of Defence on AI technology is revealed.
In March, a report by Gizmodo revealed that Google had a contract in place with the US Department of Defence for the use of artificial intelligence technology, known internally as Project Maven.
Critics of the AI tech – which speeds up the process of analysing 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.
- Read more:
- Google’s military work reverses one of its oldest values – and it could jeopardize the company’s biggest asset
- Thousands of Google employees asked CEO Sundar Pichai to stop providing AI tech for the US military’s drones
- A small military contract started an internal war at Google that’s tearing the company apart
- After a dozen employees quit in protest, Google has reportedly decided not to renew its contract for military drone initiative Project Maven
- ‘Things have changed at Google’: An engineer who quit to protest Project Maven explains why the company’s changing values forced him out
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.
- Read more:
- Self-driving cars could face a ‘huge setback’ after the tragic death of a woman struck by an autonomous Uber
- Uber removed the second backup driver from its self-driving cars ahead of the crash that killed an Arizona pedestrian
- ‘We have screwed up’: Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi says in an all-hands meeting that the company deserves some fault after its self-driving car killed a pedestrian
- Uber insiders describe infighting and questionable decisions before its self-driving car killed a pedestrian
March: Facebook announces 87 million users were affected by the Cambridge Analytica debacle.
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.
The privacy breach led to a widespread “#DeleteFacebook” movement.
- Read more:
- Here’s a state-by-state breakdown of Facebook users impacted by the Cambridge Analytica scandal
- From denial to despair: Cambridge Analytica insiders describe the hectic final weeks at the embattled company
- Facebook’s privacy ‘bait and switch’ confirms your worst fears about its unstoppable advertising impulses
- How Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg could be humbled by a creepy bikini app
March: Facebook is blamed for the spread of hate speech on its platform that helped fuel violence toward ethnic minority groups in Myanmar.
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.
- Read more:
- UN blames Facebook for spreading hate speech in possible Myanmar genocide of Rohingya Muslims
- Facebook official who oversees the news feed says his team loses sleep over the site’s alleged role in Myanmar ‘ethnic cleansing’
- Facebook accused of undermining international aid efforts in Burma because it spreads fake news
- Facebook says it did not do enough to halt the spread of hate speech and violence in Myanmar
April: Mark Zuckerberg is called to Washington to testify before Congress.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was called to testify before Congress in April in the wake of a series of scandals, including Cambridge Analytica’s unauthorised use of 87 million users’ personal data, and the fake news Facebook allowed on its site – some it posted by Russian trolls – leading up to the 2016 presidential election.
- Read more:
- Here are all the questions Mark Zuckerberg couldn’t answer during this week’s congressional hearings
- The notes Mark Zuckerberg used for his congressional hearing show how he prepared for one of the biggest moments of his career
- Scientists break down what 3 of Mark Zuckerberg’s facial expressions during his blockbuster Congressional hearings reveal
July: Google is fined a record $US5 billion for abusing the dominance of its Android mobile operating system.
Google was slapped with a hefty $US5 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.
- Read more:
- Google is making huge changes to Android to avoid being fined $US15 million a day
- Android phones may become much more expensive thanks to Google’s $US5 billion fine from the EU
- Nightmarish fragmentation and expensive phones: Here’s how Google’s big Android changes could play out
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.
- Read more:
- ‘F— You!’: Press leaks during Google’s all-hands meeting enrage insiders and break a cardinal rule at the company
- Over 1,400 Googlers signed a letter to the top execs demanding a say on ethical issues – read the letter here
- Some Google insiders are campaigning against a plan to re-enter China – but a new poll shows they may have a harder fight than they think
August: Infowars conspiracy theorist Alex Jones is banned by a slew of social media platforms.
Starting with Apple, Alex Jones was kicked off social media sites one by one for his videos, podcasts, and posts. The social networking sites said Jones’ posts were filled with hate speech and threats of physical violence targeting Muslims, transgender people, and mainstream media.
Other social media sites followed soon after with their own bans, and Twitter removed Jones after facing increasing pressure from outside groups.
Jones has long floated extreme conspiracy theories: he has claimed that the government staged the September 11 terrorist attacks, and he’s currently facing a defamation lawsuit for calling the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre a staged event.
Platforms that have banned Jones this year include Facebook, Spotify, YouTube, Vimeo, PayPal, Apple App Store and Apple Podcasts, Twitter, Periscope, LinkedIn, and Pinterest.
- Read more:
- Facebook joins YouTube and scrubs videos from pages belonging to InfoWars conspiracy theorist Alex Jones
- Apple, Facebook, Spotify, and YouTube shut down Infowars’ Alex Jones
- Twitter dropped the hammer on Alex Jones and permanently kicked him off its service
- Apple permanently banned InfoWars from the App Store – but it’s still live on Android
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.
- Read more:
- Congress grilled big tech on election interference
- The Senate is tearing into Google for refusing to send a top exec to testify – and even left an empty chair and name tag to highlight its displeasure
September: Tesla CEO Elon Musk has to pay $US20 million to settle a lawsuit with the SEC after tweeting he planned to take his company private.
Elon Musk’s wild antics and cult-like following are well-documented, but none of his previous actions had implications like this tweet he sent in August: “Am considering taking Tesla private at $US420. Funding secured.”
Soon after, the Securities and Exchange Commission sued Musk, alleging he made “false and misleading statements” in his tweet, which may have included a weed reference to amuse his girlfriend, the musician Grimes.
As part of the settlement, Musk had to pay the SEC a $US20 million fine and resign as Tesla’s chairman.
- Read more:
- 70-hour weeks and ‘WTF’ emails: 42 employees reveal the frenzy of working at Tesla under the ‘cult’ of Elon Musk
- Elon Musk is in perilous territory after tweeting about wanting to take Tesla private, experts say
- Elon Musk reveals what he meant by his ‘funding secured’ tweet
- The SEC sues Elon Musk, wants to bar him from being CEO of a public company
- The SEC alleges that Elon Musk’s $US420 price point was a weed reference to amuse his girlfriend
- Elon Musk settles fraud charges with SEC for infamous ‘funding secured’ tweet, must step down as Tesla chairman and pay $US20 million fine
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.
- Read more:
- The Facebook hack affecting 50 million people also let the attackers access users’ Tinder, Spotify, and Instagram accounts
- Hackers stole millions of Facebook users’ highly sensitive data – and the FBI has asked it not to say who might be behind it
- Here’s how to check if you were affected in the Facebook hack – and how to delete your Facebook account
- Here are all the types of personal info hackers stole from 29 million Facebook users, and why it’s so frightening
- Facebook has ‘tentatively’ concluded that spammers, not foreign agents, are to blame for the biggest hack in its history
October: A report reveals that the Google+ social network exposed the personal data of 500,000 users, and that Google tried to hide it from the public.
The Wall Street Journal released a report in September revealing that a software glitch in March exposed the personal information of an estimated 500,000 Google+ users.
The story went on to reveal that Google executives decided to keep news of the data breach from the public, fearing that comparisons would be drawn between the Google+ breach and Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal.
Shortly after, Google announced it would shut down the the Google+ social networking service for good.
- Read more:
- Google shutters the Google+ social network after Wall Street Journal reports a huge security lapse
- The biggest clue that Google+ was long dead: Google’s top executives stopped using it up to 3 years ago
- The 3 killer lines in an internal memo that meant Google kept quiet about the huge Google+ data breach
- Google tried to hide the Google+ breach from the glare of lawmakers, but it failed and it’s now being investigated and facing lawsuits
- An ex-Googler went on an epic 5-day tweetstorm that gives a brutal inside look at the backstabbing and politics at the company
October: A report reveals that Android creator Andy Rubin was given a $US90 million exit package by Google after he was let go by the company over a sexual misconduct investigation.
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 $US90 million exit package.
- Read more:
- Google reportedly gave Andy Rubin, the creator of Android, a $US90 million exit package after deciding he needed to leave because of a sexual-misconduct investigation
- Andy Rubin, the creator of Android, reportedly had bondage sex videos on his work computer, paid women for ‘ownership relationships,’ and allegedly pressured an employee into oral sex
- Here’s the memo Google CEO Sundar Pichai sent employees following the bombshell NYT story detailing sexual misconduct at the company
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 epicentre 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.
- Read more:
- New York Times: Fake News Is Poisoning Brazilian Politics. WhatsApp Can Stop It.
- Guardian: Bolsonaro business backers accused of illegal WhatsApp fake news campaign
- Facebook is battling a tidal wave of fake news and misinformation on WhatsApp in Brazil
- Facebook’s WhatsApp taking legal action against Brazil election spammers
- India threatens WhatsApp with legal action after hoaxes on the app led to lynchings
November: Thousands of Google employees around the world stage a walkout to protest the company’s handling of sexual misconduct cases.
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 $US90 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.”
- Read more:
- Google’s Sundar Pichai says 48 employees were fired for sexual harassment
- Google staff across the world are abandoning their desks in protest of sexual misconduct
- PHOTOS: Google employees all over the world left their desk and walked out in protest over sexual misconduct
- Google’s famous Googleplex headquarters was the epicentre for its worldwide walkout over gender discrimination – here’s what it was like on the scene
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.
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 criticised 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.
- Read more:
- Facebook reportedly had its Republican-linked PR firm try to blame George Soros for the anti-Facebook movement
- Facebook cuts ties with Definers, the PR firm that reportedly helped it blame George Soros for the anti-Facebook movement
- Mark Zuckerberg insists he’s still the best person to run Facebook, despite the endless scandals
- Facebook employees react to the latest scandals: ‘Why does our company suck at having a moral compass’
- Facebook investors are starting to wonder if COO Sheryl Sandberg will leave the company
- Facebook says it asked an opposition research firm to link its critics to George Soros
November: Amazon announces it will split up its much-anticipated HQ2 between New York and Virginia.
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 neighbourhoods; 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.
- Read more:
- 7 horrible things that could happen to cities if they win Amazon’s HQ2 bid
- Amazon is reportedly splitting HQ2 into 2 cities, which would prove the whole contest was a massive sham
- Amazon officially announces its HQ2 will be split between New York and Virginia
- Amazon is forcing New York and Virginia to help it build helipads in return for building ‘HQ2’ in their states
- ‘Utterly unbecoming’: Jeff Bezos is getting slammed by tech leaders for how Amazon HQ2 sites were selected
- Amazon is now going to split its HQ2 into 2 locations after more than a year of intense speculation. Here’s everything that has happened in the saga up until now.