Glaring tech blunders of 2013

Glaring tech blunders of 2013

Today's thriving tech scene derives a lot of its energy and drive from the fact that ­everything keeps changing… and really fast too. But one of the ­problems with trying to quickly keep pace with the latest and ­greatest trends or market demands is that you sometimes get a little sloppy in the process and make a bungle of things.

Well, everyone makes mistakes, the saying goes, but some of these blunders may turn out to be rather unforgettable. Here's our ­compilation of what we think are the most outstanding blunders made by all our favourite tech names over the course of this year.

But wait. Before you run through them all, do remember to take it all in the right spirit. Nobody's perfect, as we all know, so there are great lessons here for all of us to take to heart as well.

Messed up chats

Google is a name that many of us have come to know and love. However, the company might have unwittingly lost some of the ­adoration of its fans, thanks to ­several faults it committed ­throughout 2013.

Although most of us are probably already aware of the fact that any exchanges we have online may be monitored by third parties, nothing could have prepared us for the mayhem that ensued involving Google's GTalk and Hangout instant messaging services.

Users of both services encountered problems in September where their chat messages were wrongly routed to unintended recipients. There was no indication given to users that their messages were being misdelivered, and most users only discovered the issue when puzzled contacts of theirs voiced it out to them.

Although the problem only lasted for several hours and was promptly resolved by Google, it was regarded as a serious privacy breach and many alarmed users took to social media outlets like Twitter to voice their concerns.

Reports on this matter observed that the problem tended to affect those on legacy Google Talk clients who were communicating with contacts on the newer Google Hangouts platform. Google Apps for Business accounts were said to have been affected as well.

In fact, members of the Bytz team faced these very same issues too at that time, and the thought of our private conversations ­becoming more public than they were ­intended to be was not a ­particularly exciting one. Especially if the one who accidentally read your messages was in fact a person who had been mentioned in the conversation itself.

The cause for this blunder was never actually revealed by Google, but some believe it was due to technical issues Google faced when migrating users from GTalk to Hangouts platform. This is because a new Hangouts update had been released for the Android platform around that time.

Oops, that's not for you

It was called App Ops, and it was a seemingly clandestine feature that had somehow made its way into version 4.3 (Jelly Bean) of the Android software.

Blogs like Android Police described it as "hidden feature" while international non-profit ­digital rights group, Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) praised it for being "a huge advance in Android privacy" which it felt was "a necessity for anyone who wants to use the OS (operating system)" while "limiting how intrusive" mobile apps could be.

Essentially, the benefit of App Ops was that it gave an Android user the ability to configure the desired level of permission for each and every app that had been installed on a particular mobile device.

In order to gain access to the App Ops menu, all that a user would have to do would be to install a third-party app such as Color Tiger's App Ops 4.3/4.4 KitKat or Appaholic's Permission Manager.

This was undoubtedly a feature worth rejoicing over when it was discovered earlier this year, but unfortunately, that joy was short lived.

Just recently, on Dec 13, Reuters reported that Google has taken this extremely useful feature out from the latest version of its Android software, version 4.4.2 (KitKat).

Calling it an accident that it had been included in the first place, Google has now left users in the lurch. They are forced to choose between either foregoing the update and missing out on security patches (the latest update includes fixes to security and denial-of-­service bugs) or upgrading to ­version 4.4.2 and in so doing, lose the App Ops feature altogether and no longer be able to control privacy settings at a more granular level.

"We are suspicious of this ­explanation, and do not think that it in any way justifies removing the feature rather than improving it," Peter Eckersley, technology projects director at EFF had said via the organisation's Deeplinks blog.

We can't help but agree with him, actually. The most that Android users can hope for is for the ­feature to make a comeback in a later ­iteration, preferably a sooner one. But, at this point, there aren't any guarantees that this might ­happen at all.

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