The end of the year is nigh, and 2017 has been an epic year for technology. We thought it would be a good idea to look back over the past year in tech news to see which stories made the headlines. But remember, we try to cover tech news you can make use of, as that’s our thing.
1. Facebook, Russia, and ‘fake news’
When all you want to do is make the world more open and connected, but you end up building a surveillance architecture that allows a foreign power to subvert U.S. democracy, well, then you done screwed up. Either that, or it was about money and control all along.
Mark Zuckerberg’s company played a vital role in the dissemination of so-called fake news leading up to the 2016 election. Facebook’s culpability in the sordid affair was painstakingly brought to light in story after story published over the last 12 months.
In many ways, it was the story of the year.
Facebook dominated the public discourse in 2017, just not in the way its founders likely expected.
And while the saga is far from over, this year marked a turning point for Facebook. Americans went from seeing it as a tool for staying in touch with relatives and college friends to an indifferent colossus looming over their lives. That fundamental reshaping of our relationship with one of the biggest tech companies in the world — brought about in no small part by the work of a Russian troll army and the election of Donald Trump — will be felt for many years to come.
2. Amazon’s Empire Building
Amazon bought Whole Foods, it dominates voice shopping with Echo and now it’s frightening the health industry by considering a move into drug sales. And by the way, cities are falling over themselves to woo the company’s second headquarters: 238 in the United States and Canada put in bids to host what Amazon says will bring 50,000 jobs to the lucky winner. The keystone of Amazon is still online retail, an arena it continued to rule in 2017. An estimated 42% of U.S. online sales were through Amazon this year, according to Slice Intelligence, an e-marketing analysis firm. That’s a big number, even if e-commerce still accounts for just 9.1% of overall retail sales in the United States. Amazon is also a leader by a less visible but vitally important measure: cloud storage. It has 52% of the market, with Microsoft at 21% and Google at 18%, according to a survey by LogicMonitor.
3. Susan Fowler, Uber, and sexual harassment in Silicon Valley
Sadly, that Silicon Valley is rife with sexism and outright sexual harassment is not necessarily a new story. However, the Feb. 19 publication of a blog post by then-former Uber employee Susan Fowler began a snowballing of revelations detailing just how toxic the culture actually was.
Titled “Reflecting On One Very, Very Strange Year At Uber,” the post recounted in detail a companywide inability to hold even egregious harassers accountable, and an apparent structural inclination toward protecting top performers — regardless of how many employees made their complaints known to HR.
What followed was not only the eventual resignation of Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, but scores of tech CEOs forced to step aside after freshly emboldened victims came forward to tell their stories. Time even put Susan Fowler on the cover of its Person of the Year issue.
And even though it in many ways defined this year, the story is not over. Sexual harassment is not “solved” in Silicon Valley, and as a result tech companies will keep seeing brave people speak up — and will be forced to deal with the consequences.
4. An iPhone unlike any other
The past year was good for Apple’s iPhone — from its tenth anniversary, three new models being announced in September and the iPhone X’s big release in November. Out of all the news, however, the iPhone X was the device that stole the show. Its radical redesign (goodbye home button, hello FaceID) coupled with a sharper display and improved cameras, made it one of USA TODAY’s favorite gadgets of the year.Even its $999 starting price didn’t deter people from lining up to get their hands on one, proving that ten years after it began, the iPhone’s still got it.
5. Cybersecurity, and oops there goes your data
Weaponized NSA exploits, ransomware freezing hospital computers, leaked Game of Thrones scripts, and hackers stealing the personal data of potentially 143 million Americans— all in all, 2017 was a bad year for cybersecurity.
WannaCry, a particularly virulent form of ransomware, spread around the globe with lightening speed and was only stopped by chance when a 22-year-old security researcher by the name of Marcus Hutchins managed to find and implement a so-called kill switch.
But bad news in the world of cybersecurity was just getting started, and thanks to a dumbfounding level of incompetence, the credit monitoring agency Equifax suffered a breachand in the process exposed 143 million Americans to the possibility of fraud and identity theft.
This one-two hacker punch put cybersecurity (or the lack thereof) and previously obscure terms like ransomware on the tongues of people around the world. Based on what we’ve seen so far, things aren’t going to get any better in the coming years, and both WannaCry and Equifax will both likely be remembered as the first of many such security fails.
6. The rise of cryptocurrency
If you hadn’t already bought into the bitcoin craze, 2017 became the year you wish you had. Cryptocurrency grabbed our attention when hackers demanded it as ransom following the HBO hack, and as payment to unlock computers infected with WannaCry ransomware.
But that was only the beginning. Prices for bitcoin and ether shot way, way up, and pretty much everyone and their grandparents started to get in on the cryptocurrency market. Big banks bought in with the start of futures trading, and exchanges like Coinbase were even forced to remind everyone to just chill for a second. Someone even started selling cryptocurrency sweaters.
Whether or not bitcoin and its ilk will become a permanent mainstay of our economy, or crash and burn in the ferocious popping of a bubble, remains to be seen. But, after 2017, we’ll all be watching.
7. Hack & Attack
If Americans had any lingering naivete about the protections for online data, 2017 was the year that showed nothing was completely safe. Credit-reporting giant Equifax initially estimated that criminal hackers accessed personal data for 143 million U.S. consumers – and later raised the count to 145.5 million, roughly 45% of all Americans. Yahoo said it still doesn’t know who pulled off the 2013 hack that affected all 3 billion of its users, the largest internet breach in history. And Uber disclosed a year-old breach in which hackers stole personal information from an estimated 57 million customers and drivers. Instead of notifying consumers and regulators, Uber paid the hackers $100,000 to delete the data and keep quiet about the breach.
8. Tesla, and self-driving tech
This was the year self-driving cars became real. Sure, various forms of the tech existed before 2017, but over the course of the last 12 months we saw supposedly fully autonomous vehicles actually hit the streets of a major U.S. city with no driver behind the wheel. That is a big deal.
Tesla, of course, has grabbed headlines with its Model S, Semi, and new Roadster, but when it comes to autonomous tech, Waymo, Uber, and Lyft are all nipping at the company’s heels.
Self-driving cars are here, and they’re not going away. The technology developed in 2017 will have a profound impact on how goods and people travel around the country in the future.
9. The disappearing phone
Say goodbye to the bezel. Over the course of 2017, companies like Apple and Samsungproved that nearly bezel-less phones are now the norm. The iPhone X is perhaps the most notable example of this, with an abandonment of the phone’s chin and an embrace of the notch.
This past year kicked off a race toward phones that are all screen, and coming models will likely push this trend even further.
10. Machine learning steps in it
This year, we got a rare peek behind the machine-learning curtain, and, sadly, what we saw wasn’t that inspiring. Sure, some developments gave us cause for cautious optimism, but it was the missteps that really defined 2017.
Google’s artificial intelligence was called out for being both homophobic and sexist, and people began to realize that computers can inherit — and amplify — the biases of the people they seek to replace.
But there is some hope. People have started to realize the importance of building ethics into AI, and the well-publicized blunders of 2017 could provide a cautionary roadmap for moving forward. However it shakes out, though, the game has changed.
The Echo and Google Home have taken the world by storm, and Apple is racing to catch up with the HomePod. Meanwhile, not content to be in one room of your house, Amazon has released additional in-home smart devices that purport to do everything from give you style tips to replace your alarm clock.
And while there has been some pushback to home-integrated smart devices, 2017 essentially primed the smart speaker to take over your entire home. That’s a trend that isn’t about to change.
12. Twitter Update, Apple Free Tutorials and Andorid Budget Handsets
In November, Blizzard made Starcraft II free to play, Twitter gave everybody 280 characters to play with, South Park landed on Android and iOS, EA took abuse over Star Wars: Battlefront II, Valve tried to fix Steam user reviews and in December, Apple started offering tutorials on YouTube, Facebook launched Messenger Kids, Google launched Android Go for budget handsets, internet pioneers begged the FCC to save net neutrality, Apple admitted to slowing down old iPhones, and Spotify launched on Linux as a snap.
Forget the Bad News and Focus on the Good News
As with every year, 2017 has been a mixed bag. There have been countless bad news stories, but we prefer to focus on the good. As you can see above there has been plenty to make use of this year, and that’s all that matters. Thanks for reading, and we look forward to seeing you in 2018.
What was your favorite tech news story from 2017? Is it one we covered or one that fell outside of our remit? Do you have any predictions for the world of tech in 2018? What would you most like to see happen? As always you can let us know your thoughts in the comments below!