It’s been a year many are eager to put in the past — especially those who were involved in 2020’s biggest tech and digital flops.
The most epic fails of 2020 included Quibi’s spectacular flameout; the release of “Cyberpunk 2077,” unplayable for many; Twitter’s unprecedented celebrity hack; and President Trump’s failure to outlaw Chinese-owned TikTok in the U.S.
To be sure, there were also clear winners in digital this year. Pandemic lockdowns boosted Netflix’s global streaming footprint (and amped up its stock). Disney Plus smashed all expectations in its first year, and HBO Max — after a tepid start and months of WarnerMedia wrangling deals with Roku and Amazon — got some late-year momentum from “Wonder Woman 1984” and Warner Bros.’ 2021 film slate day-and-date release move.
That said, here are the biggest tech and digital fails of the year:
It’s a case study in failing to read a market. Quibi collapsed less than seven months after its April debut. But the coronavirus crisis wasn’t the root of the problems for Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman’s $1.75 billion quixotic quest to enter the streaming wars. Quibi spent huge sums (up to $6 million per hour of produced content) on short-form originals from A-list Hollywood talent and even won a pair of Emmy Awards. But among its shortcomings, the richly funded startup a) didn’t let users stream on TVs until after it was clear that was a critical requirement, b) incorrectly assumed it wasn’t competing with the likes of Netflix or Disney Plus, c) wrongly believed millennials would go gaga for high-end programming chopped into “quick bites” on their phones, and d) eschewed licensed library content, which could have drawn a sustainable initial crop of subscribers.
It was the most buzzed-about game of 2020. The open-world RPG “Cyberpunk 2077” from Poland’s famed CD Projekt Red was touted as delivering an unprecedented sci-fi gaming experience, and it was plugged by star Keanu Reeves, as well as A$AP Rocky and Grimes. After more than seven years in the works, “Cyberpunk 2077” (after two postponements) finally came out Dec. 10 — and it was a debacle. The game was prone to crashes, poor performance and visual errors, particularly on PS4 and Xbox One consoles. The problems were so bad that Sony Interactive Entertainment offered a full refund to customers and pulled the title from its online store. CD Projekt Red has promised to fix the glitches. Now, besides having millions of disappointed fans, it’s the target of an investor lawsuit claiming the company made “materially false and misleading” statements about “Cyberpunk 2077.”
On July 15, Twitter suffered a large-scale attack by bitcoin cyberscammers that targeted 130 high-profile accounts — with the social network’s security compromised by “a combination of technical breaches and social engineering,” according to U.S. law enforcement authorities. The hackers, who allegedly included two teens, successfully (if only briefly) hijacked Twitter accounts including Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Kanye West and Kim Kardashian West, Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Bill Gates, Mike Bloomberg, Wiz Khalifa, Apple, Uber and Square’s Cash App. In the wake of the breach, Twitter, of course, promised to beef up its protections.
Trump’s Failed TikTok Ban
President Trump in August ordered Beijing-based ByteDance to sell TikTok to American buyers by Nov. 12, alleging that the short-form video app — most popular among teens — was somehow a national security threat to the U.S., without providing any concrete evidence for the claim. TikTok argued that Trump was motivated by election-year politics to appear tough on China. (Trump also may have been looking to exact retribution on TikTok after the app’s users claimed they help sabotage his rally in Tulsa, Okla., with bogus ticket requests.) The Trump administration set deadlines by which TikTok would be effectively banned for U.S. users if it failed to sell to U.S. owners, and ByteDance had lined up a provisional deal to sell TikTok to investors including Oracle and Walmart. But the president’s TikTok orders suffered multiple defeats in court, and with Trump’s loss to president-elect Joe Biden it seems likely that the U.S. government’s efforts to shut down TikTok or force its sale will die away.
Despite efforts by Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and others to remove or fact-check falsehoods spread on their platforms, including blocking content related to QAnon conspiracy theories, the problem remained acute throughout 2020. About 64% of U.S. adults said social media has a “mostly negative” effect, with the most common reason cited being “misinformation/made-up news,” per a Pew Research Center survey in July. Trump continued to be a major source of lies spread online: A Cornell University study released this fall found that the president represented the single biggest source of falsehoods spread about the coronavirus pandemic. Meanwhile, Trump’s false claims that he won the 2020 election (or that he would have won, citing bogus claims of voter fraud or voting irregularities) have been fact-checked hundreds of times by Twitter and Facebook. Even so, most Republican voters say they believe Trump won the election or that they’re not sure about the results, surveys have shown.