This column’s usual menu is a long list of malfunctions: in gadgets, the apps and services that make them useful, and the various forms of tech and customer support that connect us to the companies behind them.
Some of them are random breakdowns — a balky touchscreen that makes your phone look like it’s losing its mind, people putting the wrong sites on an inflight-WiFi blacklist — that can only leave you shrugging.
But others fit into a pattern and suggest that certain companies have been spending too much time reading their own press releases and not enough listening to their customers.
Android bugs and updates
Well, this could have been a whole lot worse: Although the “stagefright” bug left the overwhelming majority of Android devices vulnerable to attack via multimedia messages, no such Android armageddon came to pass.
But this vulnerability made it painfully obvious that waiting for Google’s security fixes to trickle through phone manufacturers and then wireless carriers doesn’t work. (Not that Google can’t botch an update without carriers to blame, as owners of some older Nexus tablets learned the hard way.)
Apple software quality
Apple can sometimes seem like two companies: the one that builds some of the finest hardware available and the one that puts glitchy or just ill-considered software on that gear.
Apple Music digitally locking the copies it provides of your own songs, iOS 9’s transit directions not working on older iPads, OS X’s bossy and clueless autocorrect, the weird tricks to liberate a full-resolution photo from OS X’s still-subpar Photos app… these and other Apple annoyances make me wonder about Cupertino’s priorities.
Some tech companies just had to push their luck with intrusive marketing experiments that — surprise! — went over badly. Lenovo had to grovel for forgiveness about its “Superfish” adware got exposed, while Verizon Wireless finally offered an opt-out for its “supercookie” tracking and then greatly scaled it back after its AOL acquisition.
Two things were supposed to make credit cards more secure this year: Apple Pay and other NFC-based phone-payment systems like Google’s Android Pay, and the advent of “EMV” cards that store your account info in cloning-resistant chips.
NFC payments have largely worked as promised–many retailers that blocked them in 2014 in a doomed attempt to boost a competing phone-payment scheme backed down this year–but the EMV rollout has been a disappointment.
In stores that do take these payments, confusion among clerks and shoppers has led to delays at the checkout (hint: pop the card into the reader as soon as its screen asks you to). An amazingly wide variety of stores, however, still don’t take chip cards.
A cast of characters as varied as the marital-infidelity site Ashley Madison, the health-insurance firm Anthem, messaging developer Slack, Hilton hotel chains, the gadget vendor VTech and the federal government’s Office of Personnel Management all managed to lose the data of millions of customers and employees this year.
Too many of these breaches could have been prevented by not hoarding unnecessary data and by patching systems on time. But once they happened and you got the usual apology letter offering a year of credit monitoring or whatever, what can you the victim do about them? Shrug, I guess.
But now that we can all agree on the sustained seriousness of these problems, the companies involved will quickly move to address them in 2016. Right…? Right? Hello… is this thing even on?
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