In 2011, the increasingly mobile and socially networked world of technology became more intertwined than ever with politics and the law. Patent wars shaped competition in tablets and smartphones, hacktivists attacked a widening array of political and corporate targets, repressive regimes unplugged citizens from the Internet, and the U.S. government moved to block the giant merger of AT&T and T-Mobile USA. With the passing of Steve Jobs, the world lost a technology icon who redefined the computer, entertainment and consumer electronics industries. These are the IDG News Service's picks for the top 10 technology stories of the year:
-- The PlayStation Network hack, Anonymous and the rise of hacktivism
April attacks on Sony's PlayStation and Qriocity networks knocked out service for millions of users for two months, compromised personal data of some 70 million subscribers and cost Sony $170 million to clean up. The attacks were partly in retaliation against Sony's response to the release of code for its PS3 console that let the device run unauthorized software. Though it's unclear whether members of Anonymous or an affiliated hacker group, LulzSec, were responsible, the stakes have been raised for politically motivated hacking, or hacktivism. Anonymous, the most high-profile hactivist group, this year claimed or was believed to have launched attacks against entities as disparate as security firm HBGary, child-porn sites, Koch Industries, Bank of America, NATO and various government websites. LulzSec, Peoples Liberation and TeaMp0isoN are among the the groups claiming affiliation with the Anonymous collective. Though police have made arrests in the U.S., the U.K., Spain and elsewhere, the success of high-profile hacks has assured that politically oriented hacking is here to stay.
-- AT&T's deal to buy T-Mobile unravels
With AT&T still reeling from the U.S. Department of Justice's August lawsuit to block its US$39 billion acquisition of T-Mobile USA, staff at the Federal Communications Commission in November announced they found the deal against the public interest. Government officials say it would create the largest concentration of market power in the U.S. mobile industry, reducing competition, raising prices and crushing innovation. The carriers say the deal is necessary for them to bring LTE (Long-Term Evolution) broadband to nearly all of the U.S. Under heavy fire, though, the deal will quite possibly fall apart for good. District Court Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle has granted a request from AT&T to halt the DOJ's lawsuit while the two carriers decide whether to move forward with a merger. AT&T will present a status report on Jan. 12.
-- Apple sues Samsung: Android under siege again
Apple's lawsuit against Samsung, launched in the U.S. in April and eventually involving courtroom battles in Germany, France, Australia and elsewhere, focused on a patent for list-scrolling software and three smartphone and tablet design patents. The real threat to Apple, however, is not only Samsung but Google's Android. While Samsung, which sells Android devices, became the world's biggest smartphone vendor this year, Android's market share surpassed 50 percent, comprising 60 million devices from multiple vendors. Android's success makes it a target. Google suffered a direct legal attack in 2010 when Oracle filed a lawsuit charging that Android infringes Oracle patents and copyrights related to Java. Microsoft, also gunning for Android, signed a cross-patent deal with Samsung in September that grants it royalties from Samsung's Android-based smartphones and tablets. Meanwhile, Google hopes to strengthen its patent arsenal by acquiring Motorola Mobility, which itself was hit with a lawsuit last year from Microsoft. With Smartphones and tablet sales skyrocketing, the stakes are enormous and Android-related legal battles likely will be fought for years to come.
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