This Dumb Year: The 67 Worst Moments In Tech 2016

Apologies galore! Exploding phones! A company named Tronc! And other stuff that made the year in technology so memorably off-kilter.

This Dumb Year: The 67 Worst Moments In Tech 2016
President-elect Donald J. Trump, whose Twitter feed helped keep 2016 weird all year long. [Photo: Flickr user Jamelle Bouie]

Awful.” “Terrible.” “Very bad.” Even ” heartbreaking.”


To this bleak list of words that have been used to sum up 2016, we must add another: dumb. Especially when it comes to the year in technology.

Even if you set aside the major tech storylines–from Trump’s tweets to Yahoo’s leaks–2016 was just plain weird. In the fullness of time, we may forget that it was the year that Facebook told many users (including Mark Zuckerberg) that they were dead. And Twitter suspended its own CEO. And Apple accidentally let key details slip of not one but two major products before they’d been unveiled on stage. But it all happened, and it deserves to be commemorated.

(Editor’s note: John Paul Titlow is alive and well.)

Herewith, a month-by-month chronology of moments in tech that were dumb, ill-advised, bizarre, or embarrassing–or, in more than a few cases, all of the above.



Just thinking about it was excitement enough.
The internet newsophere gets downright giddy over a report that the big news at CES will be a game-changing partnership between Google and Ford to build autonomous vehicles. The trade show comes and goes without any signs of such a deal.

The camera never lies, but people do.
In Singapore, Nikon awards a prize to a striking black-and-white photo of a plane in the sky behind a ladder. When people point out that the aircraft was pasted in via a badly done Photoshop job, the camera giant apologizes and rescinds the honor.

EFF you.
T-Mobile CEO John Legere, famous for expletive-laden tirades against other wireless carriers, apologizes after releasing a video featuring him getting salty with advocacy group the Electronic Frontier Foundation over its opposition to T-Mobile’s “Binge On” feature, which provides free streaming of some–but not all–media services. “I am a vocal, animated, and sometimes foul-mouthed CEO,” he writes in a blog post



Sounds disruptive.
Parker Conrad, cofounder and CEO of HR cloud-service provider Zenefits, resigns over issues relating to its compliance with state insurance laws. The company admits that employees used software, supposedly written by Conrad himself, to complete mandatory California online brokerage classes in less than the legally required amount of time.

Bad company! Great investment!
Nonplussed over Apple’s resistance to helping the FBI unlock the iPhone of San Bernardino shooter Syed Farook, presidential candidate Donald Trump calls for a boycott of the company at a South Carolina rally. FEC filings, however, show that he holds onto $1.1 million or more in Apple stock.

Share first, think later.
GOP presidential candidate Ted Cruz fires his communications director for sharing a video of fellow candidate Marco Rubio on Facebook and claiming that it includes Rubio saying that there “weren’t many answers” in the Bible. In actuality, the Florida senator had said that the Good Book includes “all the answers.”



Tell me when they’ve taught it to shout and wave its arms at a rally.
Step one, build Tweet bot. Step two: Feed in language from Trump’s stump speeches. Stir. That’s what some MIT guys did, and the result, called @DeepDrumpf, has a way of composing tweets that sound eerily like the president-elect. “I’m what ISIS doesn’t need,” says the bot in one tweet.

Women in gaming, dancing on platforms.
At the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, Microsoft takes a stance for gender equality by holding a “women in gaming” lunch. But then it holds a party with entertainment consisting of female dancers in skimpy “schoolgirl” outfits–a move it apologizes for and blames on the venue.

Alt-right automaton.
Tay, a Microsoft AI chatbot experiment designed to talk like a teenager, goes horribly awry after she falls in with a bad crowd on Twitter that quickly teaches her to spout racist venom.


I’m fine, thank you. I’m also in Des Moines.
After a terrorist bombing in Lahore, Pakistan, Facebook’s Security Check feature accidentally tells members in the U.S. and U.K. that it thinks they’re near the site of the attack, and asks them if they’re okay.


In the name of the almighty Colonel Sanders, cut it out.
KFC’s Australian, um, wing, promotes new “Hot & Spicy” menu items by tweeting a photo of a woman grabbing at a (blurred) area near a man’s crotch, hashtagged #NSFW. After complaints, the chicken purveyor says it “misstepped the mark,” apologizes, and deletes the tweet.


The Coolest Cooler, a high-tech ice chest that raised a record-breaking $13 million on Kickstarter, can’t afford to send backers their coolers–so it sells them on Amazon to raise cash while asking backers to send more money to get the products they were promised.


The butler did it.
The Trump family’s longtime manservant, Mother Jones reports, has been calling for the execution of President Barack Obama on Facebook. “I wrote that,” he responds. “I believe that.”



Keep on Troncin’.
Tribune Publishing, the venerable owner of the Chicago Tribune and Los Angels Times, changes its name to Tronc, gives itself a logo with a 1980s vibe, and declares itself to be “a content curation and monetization company focused on creating and distributing premium, verified content across all channels.” On Twitter, hilarity ensues.

Un-carrier offers un-food.
T-Mobile’s latest gambit to steal market share from AT&T and Verizon is “T-Mobile Tuesdays,” a rewards program that, among other things, offers customers a weekly free small Frosty at Wendy’s and free Domino’s pizza. The accompanying app gets off to a rocky start and Domino’s soon decides it doesn’t like giving away pizza after all.

HBO Nah.
HBO Now, the cable channel’s streaming service for cord-cutters, suffers an outage at a particularly inopportune moment: during the next-to-last Game of Thrones episode of the season.



Not anti-semitic–pro-sheriff.
On Twitter, Donald Trump shares an anti-Hillary Clinton image–apparently originated by a creator of racist memes–featuring a pile of cash and a Star of David. Though his campaign pulls the graphic and replaces it with a de-starred version, it also denies that it was anti-Semitic, maintaining that the meme merely showed a “basic star” such as those worn by sheriffs.

What a weiner.
Golden State Warrior Draymond Green posts a public photo of his private parts to Snapchat. After claiming that he was hacked–the standard explanation in such situations–he later admits that he goofed.

Such a great gaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaame.
In Encinitas, California, two men fall off a cliff while playing Pokémon Go.


Gotta crash ’em all.
Obsessive Pokémon Go players also start causing car accidents–110,000 of them in 10 days in the U.S. alone, according to one report.

Armed (with Pikachus) and dangerous.
Four Missouri teenagers are accused of committing a string of robberies by using Pokémon Go to lure victims to a Pokéstop.

Hey, many of the best Pokéstops are on hallowed ground.
Arlington National Cemetery, the 9/11 Memorial, and the National Holocaust Museum are forced to politely ask Pokémon Go players not to hunt for critters on their premises.



He tells it like it is. Except when it’s somebody else telling it like it is.
It becomes clear that you can tell which @RealDonaldTrump tweets are from the real Donald Trump, and which are ghosted by his staff: the excitable candidate uses an Android phone, and the other, far more anodyne tweets come from an iPhone.

Data scientist David Robinson’s analysis of @RealDonaldTrump tweets by platform

Just relabel it “Trending Fake News” and all should be fine.
Dogged by accusations that its human editors have a liberal bias, Facebook turns its trending-news section over to an algorithm. Three days later, it’s spotlighting stuff like the “news” that Fox has fired Megyn Kelly for supporting Hillary Clinton.

Sadly, nobody ever leaks anything about Gizmodo to us.
Gizmodo reports on an analysis of Fast Company reporter Mark Sullivan and his work prepared for internal use by Microsoft. The document was apparently emailed to the gadget site by mistake during preparations for a meeting with Sullivan.


He’s baaaaaaaaaack!
Anthony Weiner returns to the news by doing that thing that Anthony Weiner does, in even more lurid form.

Sometimes sneaky, anonymous pride is the best pride of all.
In a New York Times op-ed, entrepreneur and venture capitalist Peter Thiel says he’s “proud” to have funded Hulk Hogan’s lawsuit against Gawker, which ends up forcing the shuttering of the gossip blog and the sale of its sister media properties. Thiel waged his vendetta for years, in secret, until it was uncovered by Forbes in May.


Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how do you like your phone?
Samsung recalls its new, well-reviewed Galaxy Note 7 smartphone after a handful of reports of its battery exploding during charging.


It’s not like it was a secret or anything.
Apple prematurely tweets about a major new iPhone 7 feature–its water-resistant design–before the company has revealed it onstage at its San Francisco media event.

The only good predictions are the ones you don’t make.
A Forbes tech writer helpfully explains that not only is the idea that Samsung’s Galaxy Note 7 forbidden on airplanes a misperception, but that the phone won’t be kept off planes in the future, either: “There is no ban. There will not be a ban.” Within weeks, taking one on board an aircraft becomes a federal crime.

Military intelligence.
The U.S. Army’s official Twitter feed shares a story accusing Donald Trump of lying every three minutes and 15 seconds. It pulls the tweet, apologizes, and says that it’s suspended the employee who meant to tweet it from her personal account.

Reality sucks.
You’d think that since the Oculus Rift launched this year, 2016 would have been great for founder Palmer Luckey. Instead, he essentially has to go into hiding after his secret financial support for an anti-Hillary Clinton “shitposting” meme machine is uncovered.

Everybody loves frogs.
Donald Trump, Jr., uses Instagram to share a “Deplorables” meme that features, among others, himself, his father, and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. It also depicts Pepe the Frog, a cartoon character adopted and popularized by anti-Semites on Twitter. Trump, Jr., says he’s “honored” by the image.

Over 500 million disserved.
Yahoo, which is in the process of being acquired by Verizon, discloses that it believes a state-sponsored hacker has stolen information associated with a half billion of its user accounts, including names, email addresses, and security questions. The New York Times later reports that the company had been slow to implement tighter security for fear of making its products harder to use.

Big, inaccurate data.
Facebook discloses that for two years, it’s been accidentally misstating a metric relating to video ads, making them look more popular among users than they really are.

You too may be a lucky winner.
In 2013, Business Insider reveals, Microsoft tried to keep its still-unannounced Xbox One secret by hiding secret prototypes where nobody would think to look for them: in a shipping facility. The strategy led the company to accidentally send one to a guy who’d ordered a laptop.

He’s baaaaaaaaaack! Again!
Anthony Weiner is back in the news for the sleaziest version yet of that thing Anthony Weiner does–a story that eventually metastasizes into major trouble for Hillary Clinton shortly before election day.

Sometimes the apple falls very, very far from the tree.
At the first general-election presidential debate, while discussing cybersecurity, Donald Trump praises the computer skills of his 10-year-old son Barron: “He has computers. He is so good with these computers, it’s unbelievable.”


Targeting! Or is it profiling?
Propublica reports that Facebook lets advertisers filter out African-Americans, Asian-Americans, and Hispanics when “targeting” ads on the social platform, pointing out that the tools can be used to advertise housing to whites only. Facebook says it’s only trying to give marketers control over what content to show specific user groups based on cultural identity, but ends up eliminating the option for ads relating to housing, employment, and credit.

Silk Road redux.
Facebook members use the social network’s new Craiglist-esque Marketplace feature to hawk animals, weapons, and drugs. The company says it created technology to police such postings, but that a glitch prevented it from operating properly.

Déjà vu all over again.
Samsung recalls the Galaxy Note 7 and gives customers new units that it says solve the exploding-battery problem. But one of the replacement phones catches on fire on a Southwest flight. Other replacement Notes also, um, flame out.

You could also try sewing one into a teddy bear.
After the Galaxy Note 7 is banned from air travel, a Gizmodo reader says that an AT&T rep advised that it could be smuggled home from an overseas trip in a sock.

No, no, no–it’s her jeans that are acid-washed.
During the second presidential debate, Donald Trump accuses Hillary Clinton of having “acid washed” emails on her notorious private server. The charge apparently stems from her team having deleted messages using something called BleachBit, which is a software utility rather than a tiny vat of acid.

Curse you, “reply all.”
The president of Wall Street Journal sister publication Barron’s accidentally sends an email to the entire staff concerning upcoming, not-yet-announced layoffs.

If the Galaxy Note 7 is outlawed, only outlaws will have the Galaxy Note 7.
Samsung issues a takedown notice for a YouTube video depicting its Galaxy Note 7 phone as a usable weapon within a modded version of Grand Theft Auto V.

The walking racist dead.
Microsoft apologizes for the subject line of a promo email for its Dead Rising 4 game–which, though meant to sound like a moaning zombie, comes out sounding like it might be a racial slur.

One of these Time Warners is not like the other.
The Senate Judiciary Committee Anti-Trust Sub-Committee announces that it’s calling Time Warner CEO Rob Marcus to testify about the company’s planned acquisition by AT&T. But Marcus is actually CEO of Time Warner Cable, a different company that has already been acquired by Charter Communications. The senators apparently confused it with the Time Warner that makes movies and owns TV channels.

Too soon, too soon.
A Southwest flight attendant is spotted at Salt Lake City International Airport dressed for Halloween–as a flaming Galaxy Note 7.


Autonomous yes, driving no.
For its splashy San Francisco product launch, Chinese gadget maker LeEco builds a giant ramp, anticipating that its upcoming autonomous car will drive itself onstage. Instead, the company’s CEO explains at length, one of its models got into an accident on its way to the event and the other was delayed after making a cameo appearance during the filming of a new Transformers movie. (At a similar event in April, reported BuzzFeed, a “self-driving” car had been piloted by remote control.)

Razer-sharp wit.
The guys at gaming computer maker Razer try to tweet a clever shot at Apple’s new MacBook Pro. “You call yourself Pro? S my D,” the tweet goes, pointing to the laptop’s lack of an SD card slot. After scores of users, many female, complain, the company says that it merely wanted to point out that its machines do have SD slots.

They rinse and spin, they rumble and roll, they flip their lids and blow a hole through the wall.
Samsung recalls washers that may damage their surroundings and/or injure their owners. The top-loading models are part of the Korean giant’s explosive 2016 product line, but the real explosion comes when the owner of the blown-up device hears that no refund is forthcoming.

Does not compute.
This American Life reports that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton doesn’t know how to use a PC–one of the few things she apparently has in common with Donald Trump.

But that 1.8% chance of the exact opposite happening is a doozy.
One day before the U.S. presidential election, the Huffington Post declares that the odds are 98.2% that Hillary Clinton will defeat Donald Trump, and that her victory will be “substantial.”

The intolerant among you should get the hell out.
After Donald Trump’s surprise victory, GrubHub’s CEO sends an email to employees decrying Trump as a hateful anti-immigrant nationalist, saying that GrubHub will fight for the dignity of any worker who feels scared, and ordering those who disagree to tender their resignations by return email. He later clarifies that he was not demanding that anyone who voted for Trump must quit.

All publicity is good publicity, except for terrible publicity.
Irate over the election results, the CEO of security startup PacketSled takes to Facebook and threatens to personally assassinate President-elect Trump. He apologizes, says he was joking (and drinking), and then–say it with me now–resigns.

It’s not like it was a secret or anything, part deux.
An image inside the new MacOS Sierra depicts the MacBook Pro with Touch Bar and Touch ID–a computer that Apple hasn’t announced yet.

As long as the pug was on staff, no problem.
Taxi-app startup Karhoo shuts down after burning through $250 million of funding. The CEO of the would-be Uber rival is said to have billed the company for expenses such as his pet pug’s $6,000 vet fees.

If Facebook says you’re dead, you’re dead.
A bug briefly leaves Facebook compassionately declaring that many members–including Mark Zuckerberg–have died and that it hopes their profiles will be of comfort to their loved ones.

Hit the road, @Jack.
Twitter, which has a reputation for moving slowly to oust those who engage in harassment and other forms of troublemaking from its service, accidentally suspends its own CEO, Jack Dorsey, for about 15 minutes.

Nobody can troll like a CEO can troll.
Reddit CEO Steve Huffman apologizes for striking back at insults flung at him by members of the site’s pro-Trump subreddit by editing them to replace his name with those of the subreddit’s own moderators.


Organizing the world’s fake news and making it universally accessible.
A Google redesign that emphasizes “top stories” pushes a U.K. tabloid’s article about aliens sucking energy from the sun to the top of search results.

You’re gonna need more cake.
1.2 million people RSVP for a Mexican girl’s 15th birthday party after her parents accidentally make the invitation public on Facebook rather than limiting it to friends and family.

On the bright side, autocorrect silently fixed a number of other equally embarrassing typos.
It’s revealed that Clinton campaign manager’s John Podesta’s email was hacked after an aide called a phishing attack “a legitimate email” in a message. He had meant to say “an illegitimate email,” but his error prompted Podesta to click on a rogue link that led to the breach of the Democratic National Committee. The messages that got leaked as a result, via Wikileaks, often dominated coverage of the Clinton campaign.

Reality-show host/president elect/security guru.
President-elect Trump plays down the FBI’s and CIA’s suspicion that Russian hackers interfered with the U.S. election by breaking into DNC email servers–even arguing that it would be “very hard” to find the identity of the hackers without catching them in the act. Real security experts are quick to disagree.

Problem solved!
After complaints that the battery life of new MacBook Pro models is disappointing and unpredictable, Apple uses a MacOS update to remove the feature that states, in hours and minutes, how much time you’ve got left.

Double or nothing.
Less than three months after disclosing a leak of information on a half billion of its users–called the worst hack ever at the time–Yahoo reveals an earlier breach, in 2013, that affected a billion users. It says it believes that the same state-sponsored hackers were responsible in both instances. And this time around, unlike after the first disclosure, it forces users to change their passwords.

This is exactly why Bonnie and Clyde never snapped.
Florida police arrest a 19-year-old woman on suspicion of burglary and other charges after seeing a Snapchat post showing her, a 16-year-old, and wads of cash.