World Wide Web of Trouble

By Marsden, Rhodri | The Independent (London, England), December 22, 2012 | Go to article overview
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World Wide Web of Trouble


Marsden, Rhodri, The Independent (London, England)


REVIEW OF THE YEAR TECHNOLOGY

There were many technological triumphs to celebrate in 2012, from the geek chic of the 20 Raspberry Pi computer to the mini-tablet shoot-out between Google's Nexus 7 and Apple's iPad Mini. But if there was one emotion that characterised the year in technology, it was 'being a bit cross'. We're used to seeing vituperative reactions on social media to everything from human rights abuses to ejections from Strictly Come Dancing, but 2012 had more than its fair share of technology-related fury, starting back in January with the outcry over proposed legislation to curb copyright violation. The provisions contained within Sopa (Stop Online Privacy Act), Pipa (Protect Intellectual Property Act) and Acta (Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement) came in for sustained criticism for their vague wording and potential threat to perfectly legal activity; one commentator warned of the internet being crippled "by greed and ignorance". A one-day blackout by some 7,000 websites, including English Wikipedia, helped to spread the word, and today Sopa and Pipa are sitting on ice, while Acta was rejected by an EU vote in July over its perceived threat to civil liberties.

Anonymous, the online group which is seen as either a bunch of righteous vigilantes or an "internet hate machine" spent much of the year fuming angrily, and bringing down websites of organisations they deemed to be bulldozing their internet playground. The shutdown by the US Department of Justice of Megaupload, a file-locker website used mainly - but not exclusively - for sharing pirated content, led to the "single largest internet attack" in Anonymous's history, with Universal, Warner Bros, the FBI and many others targeted. Attempts by law enforcement agencies to shut down sites like Megaupload are usually characterised as pointless, never-ending games of Whack-A- Mole, but Megaupload's closure did prompt similar services to either shut down or change their business model. Last week the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) deemed the action to have been a great success.

Apple was furious with Samsung, and Samsung was furious with Apple. By July there were some 50 lawsuits between the two companies over alleged infringements of intellectual property, from the curve of gadgets' corners to the 'overscroll bounce' we see when we swipe our screens too quickly. Who won? Well, a South Korean court said Apple, the Japanese said Samsung; British judges found in favour of Samsung and demanded that Apple 'apologise' - although Judge Colin Birss's pronouncement that Samsung's products weren't "cool" enough to be mistaken for Apple's soured the victory somewhat. But the big win for Apple came in the USA, with $1bn in damages awarded to the Cupertino giant by a jury who reached their decision with merciless speed. As the verdict was given, bigger arguments raged over the relentless amassing of patents by technology corporations, the stifling of innovation caused by patent wars and whether lay juries should even be used in patent trials - arguments that will rumble on for years to come.

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