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Mad Beef: 2014's Biggest Tech Fights
By Angela Moscaritolo,
PC Magazine, 23 December 2014.

In this ultra-competitive world, it seems that just about everyone is looking to get a leg up and take their rivals down. In 2014, some fights raged on with no end in sight (iOS vs. Android, Mac vs. PC, PlayStation vs. Xbox), but this year also brought a fresh batch of battles to keep us all entertained. From Gamergate to net neutrality, it seemed that every day, there was a new tech fight to be fought.

But before we get into the serious battles that defined the year in tech, let’s take a moment to reminisce about one of the more amusing squabbles that may have slipped under your radar. A pretty serious spat emerged this year between smartphone-toting tourists and…wild bears, for example. U.S. Forest Service officials in Lake Tahoe actually issued a stern warning in October against taking selifes with wild bears, because some park-goers were apparently so eager to get a cool shot that they were actually rushing towards the furry creatures. Just a reminder - you probably shouldn’t do that.

Dumb nature enthusiasts aside, there were some serious tech-related battles in 2014. Sit back, grab the popcorn, and check out below for more on the biggest brawls of the past 12 months. Everybody likes a good fight every now and then, right?

1. GamerGate

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So, girl broke up with a guy...and that’s how the GamerGate started. Back in August, indie game developer Zoe Quinn’s ex-boyfriend alleged that she cheated on him with Nathan Grayson, a games journalist who writes for Kotaku. Readers surmised that Quinn was sleeping with Grayson for favourable coverage of her game, something she has denied and of which no evidence exists. But things turned really nasty against Quinn on social media, where she and other women in gaming were subjected to threats and other vile commentary.

GamerGate supporters argued that the entire campaign was about ethics in journalism, and that those spewing hatred on social media did not speak for them. But GamerGate has since become synonymous with those threats, which prompted Twitter to simplify the way users can report abuse on the micro-blogging service.

2. Net Neutrality

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Another year, another net neutrality debate. The issue raged on in 2014, after a court struck down the FCC's existing net neutrality rules in January. Incoming FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler pledged to examine the issue again, but took the controversial step of proposing paid prioritization for some broadband content, which is basically the opposite of what net neutrality aims to accomplish. He watered that down a bit when the agency voted to move ahead on new net neutrality rules, but the issue resulted in more than 3 million public comments. Meanwhile, President Obama in November called on the FCC to take the controversial step of re-classifying broadband as a telecom service rather than an information service. The approach would give the FCC more authority over broadband providers, but faces a huge fight from ISPs. Wheeler is undecided about how to proceed at this point, so expect the debate to continue into 2015.

3. T-Mobile vs. AT&T vs. Sprint vs. Verizon

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The mobile carrier wars were alive and well in 2014, with T-Mobile and its outspoken CEO John Legere instigating most of the battles. Legere’s efforts to beat other carriers in terms of pricing and features went into overdrive after its merger with Sprint fell through, but its rivals were up for the fight. The major carriers unveiled a bevy of new plans throughout the year, cutting prices and adding data, all in an effort to keep (or attract) your business. The firms also continued their network upgrades, with carriers dipping their toes into voice-over-LTE (VoLTE) service.

4. Taylor Swift vs. Spotify

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Go away, Spotify. Taylor Swift hates you. The pop-country queen removed her entire catalogue from the world’s top music-streaming service in November, arguing that Spotify felt “a bit like a grand experiment” not worthy of her life’s work. Spotify begged her to come back, but Taylor hasn’t budged. For more, see Why Music Should Not Be Free.

5. Amazon vs. Hachette

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Is Amazon becoming too big? Some argue that the e-commerce giant is crippling competitors with low prices, especially in the e-book market. The issue came to a head in May when Amazon pulled pre-orders for some Hachette titles from its online marketplace after the two companies couldn’t agree on pricing. Amazon and Hachette came to an agreement in November, but the incident prompted questions about whether Amazon was using its Web-based power for evil.

6. Facebook vs. Drag Queens

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Facebook in September came under fire from several San Francisco-area drag queens after the social network forced them to use their real names rather than their stage names on their profiles. One performer, Sister Roma, was forced to change her name on Facebook to her legal name, Michael Williams. Facebook later backed down, apologized, and pledged to do better on the issue in the future.

7. Uber vs. Journalists

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Uber made headlines seemingly on a weekly basis this year, but it wasn't all good news. The app-based car service battled taxi drivers in cities around the world, who argued that Uber was not properly licensed. There was a huge protest across Europe this summer, and bans in Spain and Thailand earlier this month. Uber also launched in Portland despite the city's opposition, but later decided to halt service and work something out with officials there.

But Uber execs also had it out with another powerful foe: the press. In November, Uber exec Emil Michael proposed spending US$1 million to hire people to dig into the personal lives and families of journalists who were critical of Uber. He later said he didn’t mean what he actually said and apologized.

8. Everyone vs. Google Glass

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This year, some Google Glass wearers learned a hard lesson: rock the high-tech specs, and you might be assaulted and/or interrogated. Google’s US$1,500 wearable faced harsh pushback this year in even more places, including some movie theatres, bars, and tech events like Comic-Con in San Diego.

9. Phone Makers vs. the FBI

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Mobile devices have become an extension of many people's lives, so it's natural to want to keep information stored on them private. Phone makers heard that call, so the latest versions of iOS and Android are encrypted by default. One group that's not a fan of that? The feds. A number of government officials have repeatedly voiced concerns that encryption could also provide a safe haven for criminals since the FBI and other law enforcement officials would have no way to access information on suspects' phones.

10. Auto Dealers vs. Telsa

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The electric car maker faced major opposition this year over its direct sales business model. Michigan in October banned automakers from selling vehicles directly to customers other than through franchised dealers. Lawmakers didn't specifically call out Tesla, but the move was clearly directed at the car maker. New Jersey lawmakers have also banned direct sales of cars to consumers, while Arizona, Missouri, North Carolina, and Texas have passed similar laws.

11. NY Attorney General vs. Airbnb

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Listing your apartment on Airbnb within New York City? New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman might like to have a word with you. He went after Airbnb this year for violating New York law with short-term leases. But Airbnb argues that New York's current laws are archaic. According to a report released by Schneiderman in October, 72 percent of all New York City Airbnb rentals made within the last several years were illegal in some capacity.

12. Mother Nature vs. Drones

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Drones have been used to capture some pretty amazing nature footage - from majestic orca whales in the ocean to the rim of a volcano. But they’re not always embraced by Mother Nature and all her beings. Back in October, a territorial hawk took down a drone - with the camera rolling. The expensive flying cameras were also disturbing the peace in Yosemite, so the National Park Service banned them for being too loud.

[Source: PC Magazine. Edited.]

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