Top 12 tech embarrassments of 2010
The year in tech had plenty of highs -- and plenty of lows. Here are 12 mortifying moments we won't soon forget.
It's one of life's greatest injustices: When you do something well, the world forgets within minutes. But when you screw up -- and I mean really screw up -- your snafu lives on in infamy.
Today, we honor the most embarrassing moments in tech this year. Some of the accolades go to companies or people; others are directed squarely at products. All of them, though, represent the lowest of the lows in a year that saw more than its share of slip-ups.
Brace yourself for some blush-building blunders.
1. Most embarrassing customer disservice
And the winner is: AT&T
Let's face it: AT&T isn't exactly known for customer satisfaction. But threatening a customer for trying to e-mail the CEO is embarrassingly low by any standards.
Remember this one? Back in June, a guy named Giorgio Galante sent two e-mails to AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson. The first asked about moving up Galante's upgrade eligibility date; the other, sent two weeks later, expressed concerns with the network's newly revised data plans. Neither was particularly rude or hostile.
Nevertheless, an AT&T flack left Galante a voicemail "thanking" him for his feedback -- then letting him know he'd receive a cease-and-desist letter if he tried to contact Stephenson again.
If AT&T's trying to win its customers' loyalty, it's taking all the wrong steps. If it's trying to win some sort of weird "Worst Company of All Time" contest, though, what can you say? It's doing one hell of a job.
2. Most embarrassing mistweet
And the winner is: Hayley Williams
Twitter's often a happy place, but on the night of May 27th, the social network became especially perky.
Midway through the evening, a tweet showed up from the account of Hayley Williams, singer for the punk band Paramore. The tweet contained a link to a photo showing a topless Williams staring seductively into the lens.
To her credit, Williams nipped it in the bud -- the photo was taken down within a matter of minutes -- but the titters rang through Twitter for days. Williams claims someone hacked into her account and sent out the pic. Some people, noting the intimate nature of the image, suspect she actually posted it herself by mistake.
Regardless of who did what, one thing's for sure: When all was said and done, Williams was the one who ended up looking like a boob.
Next page: Most embarrassing use of Photoshop
3. Most embarrassing use of Photoshop
And the winner is: BP
When a company causes the world's worst accidental oil spill, you'd think it'd be tough for its reputation to sink any lower. In the midst of this summer's Gulf Coast disaster, though, BP managed to make itself even more loathsome.
While millions of gallons of oil gushed into the ocean, BP focused on rebuilding its image online. It created a website showing photos from its cleanup and containment efforts. Lovely, right? Not exactly: Some of the photos were doctored -- quite poorly, I might add -- with Photoshop.
The changes were relatively minor, but they were enough to further erode the public's trust in a company already at the bottom of the barrel. BP eventually owned up to the embarrassment, but -- much like with that little whoopsie in the Gulf -- the damage was already done.
4. Most embarrassing offline appearance
And the winner is: Mark Zuckerberg
He may be Time's "Person of the Year," but 2010 wasn't all smooth sailing for Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. There was the seemingly endless string of privacy problems, a major motion picture about the controversy surrounding his company, and -- my personal favorite -- a public appearance so awkward it made Michael Cera look like a smooth-talking stud.
The ill-fated appearance occurred at the D8 Conference, hosted by tech site All Things Digital in August. During a special panel, Zuckerberg sat down for some Q&A with All Things D's Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher. The only thing more painful than Zuck's rambling, noncommittal answers were the puddles of sweat rapidly forming at his feet.
The unforgettable moment came when Swisher, noticing her subject's overheating, suggested he take off his trademark hoodie. After boldly stating that he never takes off the hoodie -- how dare you, ye garment-pilfering blasphemer! -- Zuck peeled off the sweat-soaked garment and revealed a strange-looking insignia in its lining.
Swisher's response set the tone for the world's reaction. Her words: "What are you, in some kind of cult?"
Altogether, I suspect this made for one moment Zuckerberg did not "like."
Next page: Most embarrassing overreaction
5. Most embarrassing overreaction
And the winner is: Apple
Stop me if you've heard this one: A guy walks into a bar with an unreleased iPhone prototype...
All right -- I think we all know where this is going. The whole lost-then-found-and-sold-to-Gizmodo iPhone debacle easily ranks as one of the biggest bloopers in tech history. Worse than the leak itself, however, was Apple's ridiculous response to the situation. By the time police raided the home of a Giz blogger and seized all of his computers, the not-so-little-company-from-Cupertino had become a virtual punching bag for everyone from journalist rights groups to Jon Stewart.
Of course, that was only the beginning of Apple's 2010 PR nightmare...
6. Most embarrassing display of arrogance
And the winner is: Apple
Let's make one thing clear: Apple isn't making the list twice because of the hardware problems from its now infamous iPhone 4 "Antennagate." Like with its previous inclusion, this honor is all about the way Steve Jobs and co. handled the matter at hand.
When customers started complaining about poor reception due to the iPhone 4's external antenna design, Apple vehemently denied the existence of any problem. Not only was there not a problem, according to Apple, but if you were having issues, it was probably your own fault. "Just avoid holding it in that way," for Jobs' sake.
Apple eventually released an "open letter" acknowledging the issue and placing the blame on a software glitch. Then, a week later, the Holy One himself held a news conference -- err, sorry, news event -- where his main line of defense was trying (and arguably failing) to show how other phones suffered from the same antenna-based flaw.
In the end, Apple's Antennagate fiasco can best be summed up in three words: not very magical.
Next page: Most embarrassing privacy violation
7. Most embarrassing privacy violation
And the winner is: Google
Google works hard to show the world it isn't "evil" -- so when the search giant admits it accidentally collected e-mails and other personal information from random users, it sure doesn't look good.
Google grabbed the data while driving its Street View cars across more than 30 countries, including the United States. The cars are designed to capture geographical information for services such as Google Maps, but in this instance, they also found and stored unencrypted data from Wi-Fi networks. A coding oversight was blamed for the bungle.
Make no mistake about it: This was no small screw-up. The FTC, FCC, and numerous state and foreign government agencies launched full-fledged investigations into Google's practices as a result. Many of the probes are still pending.
For a global information company as huge as Google, that's a lot to live down.
8. Most embarrassingly bad mobile product
And the winner is: Microsoft Kin
Microsoft's Kin phone was practically a paradox from the start. The Kin, targeted at teens, was supposed to be an "always-connected" device -- but it wasn't always connected. It was meant to appeal to the "social generation" -- but it lacked support for apps, instant messaging, and other basic social features.
The fact that Microsoft killed the Kin just seven weeks after its debut was the only thing that actually made sense about this godawful gadget.
9. Most embarrassingly overhyped launch
And the winner is: The JooJoo Web Tablet
It was supposed to be the "dead simple Web tablet" that was going to change everything. TechCrunch ringleader Michael Arrington hyped his revolutionary product, originally called the CrunchPad, for months. Then, in late 2009, Arrington announced the CrunchPad was dead. Long story short, the company he'd hired to build the thing decided to rebrand it as the JooJoo and release it on its own.
After much public sparring and multiple missed shipping deadlines, the JooJoo finally launched in early April of this year. The device immediately fizzled, earning terrible reviews and lackluster sales.
The JooJoo dudes are promising to release a new and improved product sometime in 2011. I'm no psychic, but I have a dead simple prediction: No one's going to care.
Next page: Most embarrassing security breach
10. Most embarrassing security breach
And the winner is: Gawker
Having your network of blogs revenge-hacked, your personal conversations posted online, and the e-mail addresses and passwords of all your users compromised? Yeah, I'd say that leaves you with some serious egg on your face.
Welcome to the list, Gawker.
11. Most embarrassing self-sabotage
And the winner is: McAfee
McAfee's job is to protect your PC from threats -- so earlier this year, when one of the company's virus scan updates caused hundreds of thousands of computers to crash, something seemed more than a bit askew.
The glitch affected Windows XP systems running McAfee's VirusScan software. After installing the update, users found their PCs in ongoing reboot cycles with no end in sight. Hospitals, police agencies, 911 centers, and universities were among the many places incapacitated.
McAfee never came up with a great explanation for why its PC security software essentially attacked so many PCs. If you ask me, it sounds like the fellas forgot to activate their optional irony protection.
12. Overall achievement in international embarrassment
And the winner is: Myspace
When you find yourself cringing at a company's every move, you know it's achieved an unmatchable level of embarrassment. This year, Myspace handily takes that honor.
Amidst tumbling traffic -- Myspace lost nearly half of its visitors from mid-2009 to mid-2010 -- the little-company-that-couldn't started taking increasingly desperate measures to make itself appear cool again. First came the dizzying site redesign -- a flashy mish-mosh of hubs, tiles, and tabs that looked like the result of a few too many consultants who use words like "synergy."
Then came the laughable new logo: the letters "my" followed by a black line that's supposed to represent a space. Get it? "My_____." Myspace. Yeah, I know: I honestly thought it was a joke when execs first announced it.
Somewhere in there, the site's name changed from MySpace (capital "S") to Myspace (lowercase "s"). Because certainly, if nothing else had worked, a subtle shift in capitalization should send teens scrambling back -- right?
Finally, in what can only be seen as a white-flag moment, Myspace declared it would let users sign in with their Facebook accounts and interact with their Facebook data on myspace.com. You know that move had to have been made with heads hanging low.
But hey, Myspace, it isn't all bad. At least you can take pride knowing you've done something right: You've officially embarrassed yourself more than any other tech company in 2010. For that, my friends, you deserve a trophy. So go ahead and clear off your mantles; you're going to need some extra _____.
Who are your embarrassment award nominees? Tell us about it in the comments.
When not calling out tech's biggest embarrassments, author JR Raphael attempts to avoid embarrassing himself. He usually fails. You can catch him on Facebook, on Twitter, or at eSarcasm, his geek-humor getaway.