Selecting the most significant technology stories of the year is becoming increasingly difficult—primarily because it’s getting harder to tell what really qualifies as a “technology story.” The lines are blurred: Sony was hacked, threatened, and then chose to drop a movie; is that a technology story or a business story? Is the NSA’s monitoring of American citizens’ communications a technology story or a political story? Is Jennifer Lawrence’s phone hacking and the ensuing online posting of private photos a technology story or an entertainment industry story?
That challenge aside, we managed to select the top technology stories for 2014. Here are our picks for the year:
- Security breaches: It seemed like every week another major company or government was hacked or otherwise lost access to major amounts of personally identifiable customer data. This resulted in a lot of expense. Even if the individuals’ accounts weren’t hacked, people still had to change their credit cards and passwords. The companies that were attacked, such as Target and Home Depot, needed to deal with the repercussions, such as contacting those who may have been affected, paying for credit monitoring services, and dealing with the fallout from stockholders and customers.
- Hacking for political purposes: This month’s Sony hacking attack, though, was a whole other kettle of fish. While it still isn’t clear who actually committed the act and why, it appears to have been politically motivated—some people didn’t like the political content of what had been an upcoming movie, The Interview. In addition, Sony was embarrassed by the content of a number of publicized email messages. It’s not the first politically motivated hack, but it was arguably the biggest. And it certainly seems likely that it won’t be the last. Which has most major companies wondering if they are prepared for this sort of attack should it happen to them.
- What’s fair game? Big news in August was the leak of personal photos from the iPhones of a number of celebrities, including The Hunger Games’ Jennifer Lawrence. Aside from the whole question of how the hack happened (and that still isn’t clear), this event brought up the larger issue of the security of the cloud, and questioned the responsibility of the people who find these pictures out in the wild. This could be extrapolated to corporate data as well, which Sony already tried to do when it warned the news media about writing about its hacked email messages.
- Security vs. privacy. Is the Internet surveillance and “upstream” data collection performed by the National Security Agency (NSA) constitutional? While the Edward Snowden revelations about government spying on citizens actually happened in 2013 (and was one of our tech stories of the year last year), the discussion continued this year, such as when the government considered putting restrictions on such monitoring. Yes, you want to keep people in your country safe, but where do you draw the line between what’s legal and what isn’t? This is a question that didn’t get an answer this year, so stay tuned.
- The Internet and public policy. The Federal Communications Commission is flexing its muscles, whether it’s about overturning state laws that prevent municipalities from setting up their own high-speed networks, redefining the term “broadband” to require higher speeds, or enforcing net neutrality. What the agency decides could influence the role of the Internet in areas such as education and ecommerce for years to come.
- Dealing with epidemics. Ebola in the U.S. was a wake-up call, as a devastating disease, but also because it raised the issue of disease control as a public health situation. It has become obvious that containment, and how best to use technology for that, is going to be a major issue going forward.
- The ethical use of big data. Facebook got a lot of attention this year when it was revealed that the company was performing experiments on its members by changing the stories they saw. This opened an interesting discussion on the ethics of testing an unsuspecting population and where to draw the line between appropriate and inappropriate testing.
- Diversity in the high-tech industry. A whole string of major high-tech vendors, starting with Google but including Amazon, Apple, and Microsoft released demographic figures about their employee populations. They admitted that they could do better in terms of recruiting minorities and women, and talked about steps they were taking to make this happen. With studies demonstrating that diversity helps companies perform better, this is good news not just for women and minorities, but for the companies and the economy as well.
When considering the biggest news stories of the year, one can’t help but notice how many involved security issues, whether it was hacking or spying. As more and more data gets saved—and there are certainly reasons why this is a good thing—it also makes us more vulnerable. The more data there is about us, the more valuable it becomes. Some cases seem to be due to companies and governments treating data cavalierly; others seem to be due to hackers getting smarter. Either way, hackers appear to be getting smarter faster than companies—and it doesn’t look like it’s going to be any different in 2015.
Simplicity 2.0 is where we examine the intricate and transitory world of technology—through a Laserfiche lens. By keeping an eye on larger trends, we aim to make software that’s relevant to modern day workers, rather than build technology for technology’s sake.
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