Snowden - 2013
Prior to Snowden’s explosive leak of a top secret NSA and CIA program in 2013, the world was only slightly suspicious that the government was spying on them via the internet. Snowden, who was a contractor for the CIA at the time, blew the whistle on the government organizations that were illegally wiretapping and collecting phone information from millions of Americans under the guise of national security.
The scandal rocked the tech industry forever, demonstrating a need for government organizations to be held accountable against rights to privacy that are guaranteed by the nation’s tech companies. The whole scandal was brought to the big screen in Citizenfour, a documentary following Snowden’s exposure.
Exposure of Theranos - 2016
Elizabeth Holmes was one of the most disruptive inventors of the early 2000’s when the development of her Edison machine would have changed the medical industry forever by making bloodwork fast, easy, and affordable. The truth, though, was that Holmes’ lack of experience in the industry—coupled with the fact that her hunger for success and notoriety overpowered her hunger to actually make a device that worked.
Her scam unraveled in 2016, resulting in Theranos’ almost immediate closure. Holmes’ problems, however, were just beginning. The now infamous CEO and founder of the defunct company began her legal proceedings this year, at the same time that an explosive documentary following the scandal premiered on HBO.
Equifax Data Breach - 2017
Cybersecurity was quite the boring topic until Equifax revealed in 2017 that it had suffered a massive data breach. The breach, which effected the credit and social security number information of millions of Americans, demonstrated a greater need for encrypted data and cybersecurity.
The breach came to a close in 2019, when millions of people were entitled to a cash compensation for having their information stolen two years prior. Today companies are held to an even higher standard thanks to the Equifax breach, as it dwindled consumer trust in online databases.
Cambridge Analytica 2016-2017
The peak of Cambridge Analytica’s impact on the world took place throughout the 2016 world elections for things like Brexit and the United States President. But it wasn’t until Christopher Wylie, a whistleblower that worked with the company, revealed to Carole Cadwalldr in The Guardian that the company had illegally harvested the data of millions of voters to implement political ads that would impact the elections.
The scandal unearthed Facebook’s unethical strategy of collecting money from political figures like Steve Bannnon in exchange for providing private data and access to psychographic information on millions of people around the world. It would be fair to say that the aforementioned elections may have garnered different results without the impact of the now-defunct Cambridge Analytica. A 2019 Netflix documentary called The Great Hack highlights the scandal as it unfolded.
Facebook's Role In The Rohingya Genocide - 2018
Speaking of Facebook, the company received even more criticism when the United Nations called upon the social network to acknowledge the role that it played in Myanmar’s ongoing genocide of the Rohingya people.
The company revealed that it acknowledges its role, as the rampant hate-speech throughout Myanmar’s Facebook community helped to shift the narrative being told about the people and the genocide. The issue sparked debate on whether or not free speech on social media should be monitored in greater ways than other media outlets. Facebook’s own efforts to combat the problem received criticism, as it hired people that were not close enough to the issue to make major decisions that could impact people’s lives.
WeWork IPO - 2019
While there are certainly more scandals that upended the tech industry in the 2010’s the significance of WeWork’s failed IPO are far-reaching. The co-working company, which houses many of the world’s startups, failed at going public earlier this year after its initial valuation revealed to be much greater than the company was really worth.
The aftermath of the disaster left more than investors questioning whether or not the world-famous co-working company could succeed. Amid SEC investigations, social media scandals, and public health issues in certain locations, its CEO Adam Neumann was forced to step down. Neumann’s severance package was hefty, sparking more controversy as waves of layoff’s went rampant through the company in the weeks following the announcement that it would not be going public.
What the failed IPO represented was the risk involved in going public too soon. With hundreds of tech companies on the fast rise to unicorn status in 2020, WeWork’s failed IPO serves as a reminder that going public is far more than a career milestone—it has the potential to impact the economy.
The 2010’s were a major decade for innovation. The stock market, having finally begun to repair from the crash of 2008, is back up and booming in a world where startups are popping up in almost every city around the United States each day. In the last decade, though, some of the biggest scandals have rocked the tech industry and changed it for the better. From Elizabeth Holmes‘ epic scam to Snowden’s massive exposure of the NSA, here are six of the biggest tech scandals of the 2010’s