Security issues cause some to be named top tech turkeys of 2015

What not to be thankful for this year.

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Turkey time

Just in time for Thanksgiving, here’s our annual rundown of the tech industry’s “turkeys” for the year.

Looking back: Top tech turkeys 2014

Top tech turkeys 2013

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DraftKings and FanDuel

The successful websites and mobile apps, which provide one-day fantasy sports competitions for cash, have been hounded with class-action lawsuits and criminal investigations since a DraftKings employee accidentally published a blog post in September that revealed data on its users’ activity prior to the start of the NFL games. This data could allow people to gain an edge over other users, and ultimately led to accusations that employees at both companies were doing exactly that. Since then, the companies have been served a cease-and-desist order from the New York state Attorney General, prohibiting them from serving potential customers in the state that some have claimed is the most popular for the sites.

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Volkswagen

In September, the Environmental Protection Agency charged Volkswagen with violating the Clean Air Act by using software to intentionally reduce its cars’ emissions only when they were being tested to receive certification. The program is estimated to have affected 11 million cars released from 2009 to 2015. Although Volkswagen CEO Michael Horn has publicly apologized for the violations, he also blamed the entire plot on “a couple of software engineers” at the company during a hearing with Congress in October.

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Hillary Clinton's email server

Just as prominent as Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign has been the controversy over her use of a personal email server to conduct government business while serving as U.S. Secretary of State. The email server reportedly became a target of hacking attempts after she left her cabinet position, according to a Congressional investigation. The absurdity also left Clinton looking at least a little bit antiquated in terms of her knowledge of technology, when she responded to a question about whether the server was wiped to hide information before it was given to the FBI with her own question: “what, like with a cloth?” 

“I don’t know how it works at all, digitally,” Clinton added.

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Carly Fiorina

Fiorina’s fledgling attempt at the Republican nomination for the 2016 presidential election has made her notorious tenure as CEO of HP relevant 10 years after it ended. During her time there, Fiorina laid off 30,000 employees as a result of a doomed $25 billion acquisition of Compaq, sold millions of dollars worth of equipment to Iran despite U.S. sanctions on exports to the country, and provided HP servers to the NSA for a warrantless surveillance program. Despite attempts to spin her time at HP as qualification of her leadership skills, Fiorina has yet to gain any traction in a race for the Republican candidacy that is currently led by Ben Carson and Donald Trump.

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Amazon

An otherwise successful year for the tech juggernaut was blighted by a public rift between Amazon and its employees. In August, The New York Times published an article highlighting some Amazon employees’ reports of a dysfunctional company culture and an overbearing workload, culminating in one former employees’ claim that he’d seen “every person” he worked with crying at their desks. Two months later, Amazon’s senior vice president for global corporate affairs (and former White House press secretary) Jay Carney blasted the Times and publicly attacked the credibility of some of the former employees quoted in the article.

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Carnegie Mellon's Computer Science Department's computer blunder

In February, Carnegie Mellon’s Computer Science Department accidentally sent acceptance letters in emails to 800 applicants who were not in fact accepted to one of its graduate programs. The school followed up with an email explaining the mistake to every recipient, informing them that they were not necessarily accepted to the program. Most embarrassingly, the initial email, which was sent as a result of a technical error, bragged that the school “has one of the longest records for world-leading computer science research and education.”

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Peeple: The 'Yelp for People'

In September, Nicole McCullough and Julia Cordray announced the plans for their mobile app Peeple – a Yelp-like rating system for people. Cordray, the company’s CEO, actually used the phrase “Yelp for People” in a description of the app, but backtracked on that comparison after receiving backlash from people who were concerned they’d be “rated” on the app without their consent. Concerns over how people might misuse such an app, such as bullying or harassment or extortion, fueled the online backlash, eventually sending the company back to the drawing board. The app has yet to be released, but if it ever is, it doesn’t sound like it will be what was initially described.

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Heinz ketchup bottle's QR code

A German man named Daniel Korell found a bottle of Heinz ketchup in June and decided to scan the promotional QR code on the bottle just to see where it took him. By then, the promotion had ceased and the destination website taken over by a pornographic site, which was still linked to the QR code on the Heinz bottle. The customer contacted Heinz via Facebook, and before long, Heinz issued an apology to CNN Money. Meanwhile, the porn site, perhaps grateful for the free publicity of a viral ketchup bottle controversy, offered Korell a free year of service on its site. Korell reportedly turned the offer down.

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American Airlines flights delayed due to iPad crash

In April, American Airlines was forced to delay flights from airports across the country after a third-party mobile app caused its pilots’ company-supplied iPads to crash. Some flights were reportedly delayed for as long as three hours. To fix the problem, the pilots reportedly deleted and then re-downloaded the app, or, in some cases, just used old-school paper maps and documents, which can’t suffer an outage.

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United Airlines' mysterious router issue

In July, United Airlines was forced to delay all of its flights nationwide for nearly an hour and a half due to what it claimed was a router problem that “degraded network connectivity for various applications.” However, United never further explained the issue, leaving the networking industry to concoct its own theories and passengers with a vague explanation for the inconvenience.

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New York Stock Exchange's 'internal technical issue'

On the same day as United's router issue, the New York Stock Exchange suffered an outage that lasted more than two hours. The outage quickly spawned concerns of a terrorist or cyber attack, but the NYSE and the White House later ruled out an external threat and blamed the outage on an "internal technical issue."

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Tiversa accused of hacking its own clients

In May, a former employee of security intelligence firm Tiversa said while testifying before a federal court that he and other employees had covertly hacked other companies with the intention of convincing them to buy Tiversa’s services to protect their data, CNN Money reported. When one company declined to hire Tiversa following a hack carried out by Tiversa employees, for example, Tiversa alerted the Federal Trade Commission to the threat, which eventually brought the victim company to court.

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Fiat Chrysler's car hack

In July, Wired released a video showing two hackers remotely disable a Jeep while a Wired reporter was driving it. The accompanying article explained how they were able to exploit the software running in the Jeep, which ultimately led Fiat Chrysler to issue multiple recalls – ultimately applying to about 1.4 million cars – to make software patches and protect drivers from a hacking vulnerability. At one point, the company offered to mail a USB thumb drive to its customers so they could update the software themselves, a move that some saw as actually enabling hackers.

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Comcast's failed merger with Time Warner Cable

Fourteen months after announcing its $45.2 billion merger with Time Warner Cable, Comcast was forced to abandon the plan. The proposed merger drew opposition from members of Congress and technology experts within the government, in addition to many companies and individual internet users. Meanwhile, a January report at The Verge revealed that many of the letters of support for the deal that were sent to the FCC were ghostwritten by Comcast employees. By April, with the U.S. Department of Justice threatening an antitrust lawsuit, Comcast backed down.

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Comcast's customer service

Making its regular appearance as an industry-wide joke, Comcast’s customer service continued to make headlines this year. In January, the company was forced to apologize to a customer named Ricardo Brown after his wife had discovered that a customer service representative had changed his account to show the name “A**hole Brown.” It didn’t help that, even after multiple attempts with Comcast, the customer couldn’t get the company to change the name back until she enlisted the help of consumer blogger Christopher Elliott.

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Google's racist, homophobic robots

Google encountered multiple similar issues this year, with the difference being that its services were to blame for using offensive language. First, in January, Google apologized after its translation service suggested anti-gay slurs when users searched the terms “gay” and “homosexual.” Then, in July, its new Photos service began suggesting photos of African-American people when users searched “Gorillas.” One Google developer responding to the latter said the issue was “high on my list of bugs you ‘never’ want to see happen,” the BBC reported.

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Lenovo's malicious bloatware

“I have a bunch of very embarrassed engineers on my staff right now,” Lenovo CTO Peter Hortensius told IDG News Service in February, as the company dealt with the fallout of what turned out to be malicious software that was loaded onto its consumer PCs before they were shipped. The software, called Superfish, had annoyed users for months when it did what it was intended to – injected sponsored suggestions into search results. However, the company found itself capitulating when a security expert revealed that Superfish also created an opportunity for man-in-the-middle attacks on its users.