5 Epic Tech Fails
Yep: These dumb things really happened thanks to “smart” devices.
By Caitlin O'Connell
Also published in Reader's Digest Magazine December 2013
When a Twitter hacker rocked the stock market
In April, a false tweet posted on the Twitter account run by the Associated Press sent stock markets plummeting within seconds. Hackers had taken over the newswire’s official account and tweeted a claim that the White House had been bombed and the president had been injured. While the tweet was stylistically suspicious—the AP would never refer to the president as simply “Barack Obama,” and the agency usually writes Breaking to announce a developing story—it still incited market panic: The Dow dropped over 140 points, but it quickly recovered after the AP addressed the hacking.
Screenshot by Francis Storr via Flickr
When Apple Maps put people in jeopardy
While Apple’s infamously unreliable Maps app has been merely a nuisance for most users, it was downright dangerous for those who wanted to visit the Australian city of Mildura. A flaw in the app placed the town 40 miles away from its actual location—and within Murray-Sunset National Park, part of the arid Australian outback, where water is scarce and temperatures can exceed 114°F. After local police were called to the park six times to rescue visitors stranded by navigating with the Apple Maps app, they issued a public warning describing the flaw as “potentially life-threatening.”
When Motorola shared personal data
In February 2012, Motorola revealed that 100 used Xoom tablets it had provided to the Internet retailer woot.com for resale still contained personal data from the original owners. Because of an error during the refurbishing process, information that normally would have been erased—photographs, documents, and, potentially most troublesome, user names and passwords—had not been deleted from the units. To compensate,
Motorola offered affected customers a two-year membership in an identity theft protection service.
Au Kirk via Flickr
When the Super Bowl had a blackout
In the days after a power outage delayed Super Bowl XLVII and shocked viewers, wild rumors circulated about the cause of the blackout. Had Beyoncé’s megawatt performance overloaded the system? Was it some kind of cyberattack? The culprit, utility company officials revealed, was actually a device that had recently been put in place to prevent such an outage. Known as a relay, the device had been installed as part of a major upgrade to the Superdome’s electrical system in anticipation of the big game. Whether the relay itself was faulty or if user error had caused the device to fail is still in contention.
When the Segway didn't catch on
The Segway may have debuted to great fanfare (Steve Jobs predicted it would be “as big a deal as the PC”), but this self-balancing electric scooter is now considered little more than a novelty. You may see tourists zipping around on them in major cities, but sales never took off. To compound the sting of Segway’s lackluster performance, in 2010, James W. Heselden, the British businessman who owned Segway, fell to his death from a cliff when his scooter malfunctioned during a tour of his estate.