Another year of tech news is nearly over.
It has been an eventful 12 months. Samsung smartphones exploded, GoPro drones dropped out of the air and Pebble smartwatches met an untimely end.
Facebook became embroiled in a fake news controversy, Yahoo revealed several mega-breaches, we identified the supposed creator of Bitcoin – who then went AWOL – and millions indulged in a game of Pokemon Go.
Yet none of those stories made our most-read-of-the-month list – based on the number of times an article was clicked – as you can see below.
January: Licence to spy
There is a good rule of thumb: if you do not want your employer to know what you are up to online, wait until you are not on the job. And at the start of 2016, a Romanian company successfully argued it was within its rights to read Yahoo Messenger chats sent by one of its staff.
The sales engineer had claimed his privacy had been invaded as he had posted details about his health and sex life, but the European Court of Human Rights noted he had previously been warned not to send personal messages within working hours. However, later in the year, the man appealed and the case was reconsidered. The ECHR will now issue a fresh ruling in early 2017.
February: iPhone lockout
Apple clashed with the FBI when it refused to unlock an iPhone used by a murderer. Syed Rizwan Farook and his wife Tashfeen Malik had killed 14 people in a shooting spree in California before being shot dead themselves. Farook’s iPhone 5C was password-protected and the FBI feared that if it tried and failed to guess the combination, the device would auto-delete.
The agency demanded a bypass, but Apple refused to help saying it would set a dangerous precedent. A legal battle ensued, but then suddenly ended when the FBI declared an unnamed third party had found its own way to access the data. For now, the matter rests. But at the height of the stand-off, Donald Trump called on consumers to boycott Apple. That is likely to serve as a warning to any tech firm tempted to take a similar stance in a future dispute.
March: Amazon’s shock tactics
Amazon’s bosses sounded somewhat distrustful when it was reported that they had started screening videos of staff caught stealing on the job via big TVs in their US warehouses. The alleged offenders were said to have been silhouetted with the words “arrested” and “terminated” superimposed over them.
It was not the only time working conditions at the company made headlines. Earlier this month, Amazon was also accused of threatening to axe workers if they took four days off for sickness even if they had a doctor’s note.
April: Google’s awkward April Fool
It must have seemed like a hilarious idea. To celebrate April Fool’s Day, Google added a button to its Gmail app to let users send a gif of a Minion cartoon character dropping a microphone. The meme symbolises a triumphant moment and had been popularised by rappers, actors and even a fast food chain.
So what could go wrong? Well, because of a “bug” some users reported the gif had been added even if they clicked Gmail’s normal “send” button. People complained of having the yellow henchman pop up in inappropriate messages. One man even claimed it had cost him his job. Despicable Google!
As the shutters began to close on Microsoft’s free Windows 10 offer, it faced a challenge. Many were ignoring its pop-up plea to upgrade and were opting instead to stick with earlier versions of the operating system.
So, in an effort to spur them on, the firm embarked on a mischievous strategy: clicking on the cross in the pop-up’s top right-hand corner no longer dismissed the Windows update but triggered it instead. The move was widely denounced and Microsoft soon added a further notification message providing users with another chance to opt out before the software was installed. The firm’s chief marketing officer recently acknowledged the whole affair had been “a lowlight” for all involved.
June: Shattered glass
BBC Click’s Dan Simmons was invited to visit the world’s highest and longest glass-bottomed bridge ahead of its launch in China. He took a sledgehammer with him. You can view the results in the clip above. It’s smashing! The bridge opened to the public in August, but was closed again a fortnight later for urgent maintenance work. We understand Dan was not to blame.
July: Self-drive death
While other car-makers talked up their self-driving vehicle plans, Tesla went ahead and deployed a restricted form of the tech. The firm described its Autopilot feature as being a “beta” test, but it faced criticism when a former Navy Seal died after his Model S car failed to recognise a tractor trailer and ploughed into it.
Weeks later, another non-fatal crash involving Autopilot occurred in the US, and then unconfirmed reports emerged from China that another motorist had died in a motorway crash while using the feature. Tesla continues to roll out updates to Autopilot and its chief executive Elon Musk says the technology has the potential to save many lives. But critics – including the German and Dutch authorities – have urged Tesla to rebrand the system to discourage drivers from putting too much trust in it.
August: Android alert
Every summer, many of the world’s top hackers, cybersecurity experts and government officials descend on Las Vegas for the Defcon and Black Hat conferences. To mark the events, a flurry of new cracks and bugs are revealed as researchers compete for recognition from their peers and the wider public.
This year’s break-out revelation was about flaws in software used on Android devices powered by Qualcomm chips, which could be exploited to reveal their users’ data. By the time the news was made public, Qualcomm had already developed a patch and Google fixed outstanding issues in an Android update released in September.
September: Hit the road, jack
Usually new hardware is all about what has been added. But the iPhone 7 made headlines because of Apple’s decision to build it without a headphone jack – a decision that took “courage” apparently. To be fair, the move helped Apple make the handset more water-resistant, and others – including Samsung – are now rumoured to be considering similar moves.
But the path to a wireless music-playing future was not totally smooth after Apple had problems getting its accompanying AirPod earphones to market after running into manufacturing issues. The hiccup has now been addressed, but a backlog in orders means many users will not be able to pop the new tech into their ear canals until the new year.
October: Snapchat slapdown
Daughters… it does not matter how powerful you are, they are still prone to gain the the upper hand. President Obama revealed on TV that his youngest child, Sasha, had recorded him “lecturing” his family on Snapchat and other social media. He said she then secretly posted her reaction – a look of boredom – to her friends via the app. The anecdote sparked a brief media frenzy as gossip writers and others sought to track down Sasha’s Snapchat account, but to no avail.
November: …now with added dongle
Apple clocked up its third “win” of the year after it offered a discount on connector adapters following criticism that its latest laptops lacked legacy ports. The firm has a habit of dropping support for historic hardware standards ahead of the competition and often before many of its consumers are ready. But this time even it acknowledged that it was surprised by the scale of the backlash it had provoked.
December: Back to the phone future
Nostalgia had a certain role to play in our last popular story of the year, as Nokia revealed that handsets emblazoned with its brand are being promoted via its website once again. The Finnish firm is not actually making the mobiles this time round – a start-up called HMD Global is taking charge – but has lent its name for a fee.
Nokia itself is more interested in virtual reality and smart health tech these days. But for many, its brand, ringtone and Snake game will be forever associated with the dawn of the mobile age. Whether or not many people will actually buy one of the existing featurephones or forthcoming Android smartphones is another matter.
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Recommended article: The Guardian’s Summary of Julian Assange’s Interview Went Viral and Was Completely False.