Tech 2019: what happened next?

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Monday 2019

Monday 2019

When 2019 comes to an end, it's time for our annual review of our most read technical stories and the question, "What happened next?"

Facebook and its app family dominate this year's list of four entries – it's probably no surprise that none of them were particularly brand-building.

The Chinese viral video app TikTok makes the cut for the first time. And many of the other "big tech" names come in one form or another.

However, there are some notable exceptions. Neither Elon Musk nor Tesla did it, even though the cyber truck was thrown out the window and we plan to hack our brains. Google's co-founders were originally on the list after they decided to give up everyday control over their empire, but were squeezed out shortly before the release.

Video games were also missed, although Prince Harry attracted a lot of attention when he suggested Fortnite should be banned.

And both Huawei and Samsung are absent, although the loss of Google's apps and the folding phone fiasco were two of the year's outstanding developments.

What attracted most eyeballs every month of the year:

January: Three become one

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A leak forced Facebook to reveal plans to bring behind-the-scenes messaging technology to WhatsApp, Messenger, and Instagram. It has been reported that it is a favorite project of CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

He later justified the move by saying that the three products would move closer together, making it easier for users to post between them. It would also help the company expand its end-to-end encryption capabilities to ensure message security.

However, many observers found that the action would also make it more difficult to separate the company. And as the year progressed, it became a growing threat. Only Senator Elizabeth Warren and other Democratic presidential candidates suggested that Facebook had too much power and influence.

But it may not take a change of administration to thwart Mr. Zuckerberg's ambitions. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that the Federal Trade Commission could intervene to prevent the apps from being integrated.

February: Don't be afraid

Social media, mainstream news, and even the police, have been resisting Momo for no reason in February. It was alleged that teenagers' social media accounts were "hacked" to show the bulging-eyed monster alongside "challenges" that would endanger their lives.

Online articles followed that linked the death of more than 100 teenagers in Russia to the sensation. Except, of course, that there was no evidence of this.

It wasn't even the first time that an image of the Japanese bird woman sculpture went viral. In 2018 there was a similar fear on a smaller scale when the "game" was linked to deaths in South America and India – again without documented evidence.

Experts described it as "panic" [that] won't go away. "Except it did.

These days, a search for Momo on Twitter shows advertisements for ghoul masks, but little else.

And on TikTok, the hashtag #momochallenge shows videos of people who eat and cook small dumplings that have the same name in parts of Asia.

March: Turn it off and on again

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Facebook's app family experienced a 14-hour hiatus, which was billed as the most serious failure to date.

In many cases, users were unable to access the services for the entire period. And it took the company another 10 hours to relieve themselves At this point the tweet was made that a "server configuration change" was to blame.

This allowed him to reject suggestions that it had been hacked while remaining reasonably vague about the actual cause.

April: how did you get in?

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Cyber ​​security experts despaired after a study that the most popular online password was "123456".

The UK's National Cyber ​​Security Center warned that the digit string is not only easy to guess, but is also one of the first codes to be tested by automated hacking tools.

The public is advised to instead register a different complex login for each service they join and use a password manager. The hassle of having to copy and paste them every time has fueled the adoption of biometric tests that automate the process when users pass a face, eye, or fingerprint ID check.

Another alternative is to log in on another platform and let the heavy lifting go. And in September, Apple joined the party when users could access third-party apps through a new "Sign in with Apple" button. This reflects previous efforts by Google, Facebook and Twitter.

May: WhatsApp cracked

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When WhatsApp confirmed that a vulnerability in its app was being used to install surveillance software on the victims' cell phones, one of the immediate questions was how widespread the attack had been.

It was not until October that there was clarity. At that time, Facebook said that 1,400 of its users had been directly compromised. She added that they included "at least 100 human rights defenders, journalists and other civil society members" from at least 20 countries.

The technology company claims NSO Group, an Israeli private security company, is responsible and is currently suing US courts. NSO denies the allegation and has stated that it will "vigorously fight" the case.

Whatever the result, if an attacker can download spyware onto a target's phone or other device, end-to-end encryption and other security measures may not work.

June: Etika's death

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Etika / YouTube

Brooklyn's Desmond "Etika" Amofah had a large online following, thanks to his quick wit and reaction videos from Nintendo video games on YouTube and Twitch. In mid-June, however, he was concerned when he released a clip talking about suicide. Days later, the New York police confirmed that he had killed himself.

Several of his friends and colleagues have since taken steps to memorialize him. An online shop sells goods with its logo and donates the profit to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. YouTuber PewDiePie has also partnered with actor Jack Black to collect more donations to the charity on behalf of Etika.

Others have characterized the tragedy by getting themed tattoos. A still active Twitter account – @Etika – was created to keep his memory alive. And last month, a large mural was unveiled in Brooklyn showing the player's face next to a pair of Nintendo Switch controllers.

Recently, YouTube has been complained that it did not mention the late creator in its rewind summary of the year. "No one should be surprised that YouTube still doesn't understand the platform," said a frustrated user.

Anyway, in his last video ,etika's claim shows that "this world will forget me", no sign that it will come true in the near future.

If you have a mental health problem, help and support are available. Visit the BBC Action Line Learn more about support services.

July: photo interference

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Other technical issues with Facebook HQ prevented users from uploading new photos and videos to their apps and, in some cases, preventing existing photos and videos from being displayed. The disturbance lasted about nine hours.

Facebook never really explained the cause, other than that it was triggered by a maintenance operation.

Other minor glitches persisted throughout the year, including temporary Thanksgiving outages in the United States.

Given that it now serves more than 2.4 billion users who log in to at least one of its services once a month, it's a remarkable technical feat to keep everything going.

August: iPhone booby traps

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Studies show that Apple's mobile devices are less exposed to serious cyber security threats than Android-based equivalents. So when Google found out that hackers were using websites captured by Boobies to exploit previously unidentified bugs in iOS that could affect "thousands of visitors a week", this was great news.

Google added that compromised cell phones allowed the perpetrators to steal private messages, photos, and location data in real time.

For days there was speculation about who might have been exposed. Apple eventually released a statement that affected fewer than a dozen websites focused on "Uyghur community-related content". Many took this to indicate that the Chinese state was involved. However, Apple did not explicitly draw this conclusion, which was not surprising given the country's ties.

This was not Apple's only Uyghur controversy this year. The campaign group Sum of Us has repeatedly claimed that the company's willingness to comply with a Chinese ban on virtual private network (VPN) apps has made it more difficult for civil rights defenders to safely discuss allegations of abuse against the ethnic minority. The organization now plans to raise the matter at Apple's next annual general meeting.

September: more cameras

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media labelingWATCH: Take a slowfie with iPhone 11

The iPhone 11 series has more cameras, longer-lasting batteries and a new "Pro" moniker for the top models. But there was no 5G – even though Samsung, Huawei and other competitors had already launched compatible smartphones on the market. And the whisper that Apple CEO Tim Cook might be ready to reveal augmented reality headset accessories turned out to be unfounded.

Since then, market observers have reported that the iPhones sold better than expected – especially in the United States and Western Europe.

And now there is talk that 2020 will be the year of an "iPhone Supercycle" thanks to the expected revised design and the introduction of 5G.

October: Jedi wars

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Getty Images / Reuters

Amazon – and many outsiders – believed it was the strongest bid for a high-profile job to provide cloud computing and artificial intelligence services to the Pentagon. So there were shock waves when Microsoft instead concluded the so-called Jedi deal from Satya Nadella. It could be worth up to $ 10 billion (£ 7.7 billion) over time.

Not only was this a large sum to be missed, Microsoft's marketing team should also find it easier to make the company's Azure services available to other government departments and private companies. This could put pressure on Amazon Web Services' current status as a market leader.

Amazon contests the award and claims that President Trump has put pressure on the Department of Defense to decline his offer for personal revenge against its CEO Jeff Bezos.

All of this could have ramifications for the 2020 presidential election. Big tech regulation is already on the agenda, and Amazon could be a tempting target for Trump during the campaign.

But if Mr. Bezos believes the reelection of the Republican leader could jeopardize his business, his status as one of the richest men in the world and owner of the Washington Post could make him a formidable opponent.

November: The eyes have it

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media labelingWATCH: Feroza Aziz rejects TikTok's statements because she has blocked them from the app

At the beginning of the year, TikTok lagged far behind its core youth audience. It is one of the most discussed apps these days. It has launched one meme at a time and has built a reputation for being one of the happiest places on the Internet. But there are also concerns that it is Chinese-owned.

There was an argument last month when an American teen released a video that started like a tutorial on eyelash beauty. But creator Feroza Aziz quickly changed his mind to criticize China's treatment of the Uighurs.

Your clip went viral. Shortly thereafter, the 17-year-old found that she was prevented from posting new material. And soon afterwards TikTok took the clip offline.

Then the social network reversed the course. The clip was reset and the removal was attributed to a "human moderation error". And it restored Ms. Aziz's access, saying that she had been locked out due to unrelated behavior in the past.

The app insisted that there was no attempt to suppress criticism of the Chinese government's actions, but Ms. Aziz was not convinced.

She is still concerned about the Uighurs. And in her latest "skincare" video, she also draws attention to the controversial Indian Citizenship Act, which only amnesties illegal immigrants from surrounding countries if they are not Muslims – something that she considers "immoral". For whatever reason, the publication has generated far more views on Twitter and Instagram than the one published on TikTok.

The TikTok bosses are reportedly looking for a new global headquarters outside of China to strengthen their claim to autonomy. But app owner Bytedance has denied rumors that the division could be sold to make it truly independent.

December: Age of the Splinternet?

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Sasha Mordovets

It has been a long time since the Internet was an all-rounder where governments had little opportunity to limit what their citizens did online. Nevertheless, Russia's announcement that it had successfully tested the so-called "sovereign Internet" was still a significant moment.

The initiative involves enforcing all web traffic through special nodes – a term for network connection points – where content can be filtered to remove material considered to be risky. In addition, in an "emergency" all data from outside the country should be blocked and the runet – a name for the Russian Internet – should be isolated.

The state media described the achievement as a way to protect domestic businesses and government agencies from cyberattacks. Human rights defenders warn, however, that the Kremlin may restrict Russian people's access to "unwanted" information once efforts start.

The Russian government would follow the path of its counterparts in China, Saudi Arabia and Iran, who all censor dissenting voices.

And it would follow a broader trend. The U.S.-based Digital Rights Group Freedom House warned of a decline in global internet freedom for the ninth consecutive year in 2019. In addition to Russia, Kazakhstan, Sudan and Brazil were highlighted as examples of places where digital surveillance, targeted cyber attacks and / or online activities took place. Disinformation campaigns were a cause for concern.

We should learn more about Russia's efforts as soon as President Putin has had the opportunity to review the results of the tests and decide how to proceed. A Kremlin spokesman has initially denied that he intends to split the Internet into pieces.