22/12/2016 4:28 PM IST | Updated 22/12/2016 5:32 PM IST

Exploding Phones, Racist Bots and Clueless Hackers: The Biggest Tech Controversies Of 2016

Tech fiascos that hogged the headlines.

AFP/Getty Images

The year 2016 saw the launch of great tech products, ranging from Google Pixel and Snapchat Spectacles to Mircosoft Surface Studio. The year also had its share of controversies. Here are some of the most interesting ones.

1. Free Basics v TRAI

Last year, when the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) had asked for recommendations and views on differential pricing, Facebook went all out to save its ambitious Free Basics program. Under the initiative, Facebook had tied up with select network providers to let people access some websites for free.

Danish Siddiqui / Reuters
A motorist rides past a billboard displaying Facebook's Free Basics initiative in Mumbai, India, December 30, 2015. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui

The social network tried hard to sway public opinion in its favour by making Facebook users press on a button to send an automated email supporting Free Basics. In January however, TRAI sent out a circular prohibiting all differential pricing practices. Later, Facebook pulled the plug on the Free Basics program.

2. Freedom 251

In mid-February this year, it was reported that an Indian company named Ringing Bells was going to launch a smartphone that would cost a mere ₹500. Then, days later, Ringing Bells announced that the smartphone, named Freedom 251, would be launched at an unbelievable price of ₹251.

While people were wondering how a smartphone could be sold this cheaply, controversies began erupting around Freedom 251 from 17 February, the day it was launched. Right away some reporters found that the paint was coming off from the review units. The chipped paint revealed that the name of the phone manufacturer was Adcom.

The Ringing Bells website, where one could pay for and order the phone, was also riddled with security holes. The website's servers were down within hours after the sale started. Meanwhile, despite the phone-makers' attempts to tom tom their initiative as part of the government's Make In India scheme, the government distanced itself from the venture and a BJP MP filed a complaint against the owners for misusing the Tricolour.

Late in June, the company announced that it is going to start delivering Freedom 251 devices from July. It hosted an event, announcing plans to make new phones, LCD TVs and also to begin the delivery of Freedom 251. While Ringing Bells claimed that some phones had already been delivered, there was no real evidence of that having happened. The most recent reports suggest that the company has shut down.

3. Microsoft's Tay bot turns racist

Microsoft introduced their AI bot named Tay on 23 March on Twitter and people started to throw all kinds of questions at it. While it was all fun and games initially, the bot turned racist pretty soon, learning from users' responses.


4. Facebook director Marc Andreeson's controversial tweet about India

Commenting on the strong opposition in India to the Free Basics program, Marc Andreessen, Facebook Director and co-founder of the venture capital firm Andreeson-Horowitz, tweeted in February that India's anti-colonial stance had been "economically catastrophic" for it. Naturally, this didn't go too well for him and Benedict Evans who had taken his side on Twitter.


Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg also slammed the tweet. Andreessen apologised later on the micro-blogging network.

5. The decline and crash of Galaxy Note7

Samsung was sitting pretty in the driver's seat, thanks to its successful flagship Galaxy S7, and the Note7 was poised to become one the best phones of the year. And, reports started to emerge of Note 7 phones catching fire while being charged. There was some suspicion that this might be occurring due to the use of substandard charging accessories not supplied by Samsung, but more reported incidents confirmed that that was not the case.

AFP/Getty Images
A South Korean man sets up iris recognition function on his replacement Samsung Galaxy Note7 smartphone at a telecommunications shop in Seoul on September 19, 2016. Samsung started on September 19 to provide users of its Galaxy Note 7 smartphone the first batch of replacements with new batteries, after a series of battery explosions prompted a major recall worldwide. / AFP / JUNG YEON-JE (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)

On 2 September Samsung announced a soft recall of Note 7, saying that it will replace the old and faulty phones with new ones. But this step proved to be inadequate. New instances of exploding phones were reported, some quite serious in nature including that of a jeep catching fire and a man getting burnt.

Samsung issued another notice to users on 10 September but still stopped short of asking users to stop using their Note7s altogether. On 15 September, Samsung finally officially recalled all the Galaxy Note7 units it had sold. The notice was first issued in the US, followed by other countries. But even the new units began exploding. So on 10 October the company finally shut down production.

6. The Legion Attacks

The notorious and foulmouthed hacking group Legion surfaced after it hacked the Twitter account of Rahul Gandhi on 30 November. The very next day, the Indian National Congress party's account was hacked. The next target was business baron Vijay Mallya. Legion even posted a dump of Mallya's personal data including emails and property listings.

Then the group targeted popular journalists Barkha Dutt and Ravish Kumar. Soon Legion members started giving interviews listing their ambitions and sounding quite clueless.