Next year is an election year, and there is no doubt we will have plenty of examples of politicians who should have had their hormones either surgically removed or had someone wiser make their decisions for them.
On the other hand, the technology market has certainly had its fill of scandals over the last 12 months, many of which centered on HP and its revolving CEO door. It’s stabilized for the moment, and it is likely someone else’s turn to make the rounds, so what follows is my list of likely candidates and what their scandals will probably be.
We’ll close with my product of the week, the latest TiVo called the “Premier Elite” (kind of redundant), which has 4 tuners and has become my new love.
The Scandals of 2012
- Oracle: Oracle has a number of things going for it that have me placing it at the top of my list for 2012. It has an aging CEO who tends to write to The New York Times and reportedly likes to date subordinates. At the time at which its financial situation should have been showing more stress from the Sun acquisition, it fired and didn’t replace its CFO, suggesting potential miss-reporting problems. Finally, the letter that got Mark Hurd fired from HP (which would burn your eyes out) is likely to be released next year. Mark Hurd works for Oracle now.
Any one of these could become front page news over the next 12 months. My early bet is on that letter, because there continues to be pressure to make it public.
- Google: Google continues as a litigation magnet, and as we discovered with Microsoft several times last decade, discovery that includes email can locate and make public some unfortunate memos.
Given there have been financial representations of how well Android is doing and that Android is a copy, my best guess is the revelation of a smoking gun on intentionally copying Apple or Microsoft, or one that supports the idea that Google is leveraging its monopoly power to take over another market.
A number of folks are working on models that show that Google would have made more money (largely off of Apple’s use of Google search) had it not done Android, suggesting at the very least it may be covering up its own stupidity.
One other area is its chairman is actively engaging in politics, and it is believed that’s being done to influence the ITC decisions on Google’s battle with Apple. Since Obama is the target, this could become political fodder in an election year.
- AOL: AOL appears to the outside world to be largely dysfunctional at the moment, with internal battles between executives commonly vented in external forums. In short, a lot of folks who write and have large followings appear to be really pissed off at its executive team, and some are leaving. A combination of voice and anger can often result in people saying things in public that otherwise might have remained private, and whether or not there is actually any wrongdoing, allegations can sting.
Until AOL turns the corner — and it is clearly going in the wrong direction at the moment — there’s a high likelihood that someone will go public with a very loud and damaging recounting of events surrounding some executive staffing, acquisition, compensation or other decision. In this instance, there may actually not be a scandal, but perception remains 100 percent of reality. Or the public discourse may, in and of itself, represent that scandal.
- Facebook: We exit this year with Facebook under rules that are in flux in regard to privacy, as well as one of the biggest attacks using pornography on record.
In an election year, the changing rules alone could result in a privacy gaff of epic proportions, or a discussion made public that reflects very badly on how internal security decisions are made, likely from a disgruntled ex-employee or someone looking for a political advantage. Granted, this could also happen with another social network, but Facebook is the biggest, and that puts it most squarely in the crosshairs for anyone wanting, or needing, to make a major splash.
Recall how HP’s pretexting scandal was used in an election year? Next year, Facebook and social networking would appear to be the low-hanging fruit.
- Apple: I think that Apple, like Facebook, will be a victim of circumstances. Steve Jobs maintained tight control over PR (the organization that’s tasked with keeping bad news contained) and as a result, reports are that it is largely rudderless at the moment.
High volume consumer products have problems. In the past, largely contained problems, including flaming batteries, bad antenna placement decisions, overly fragile screens, secret payments to silence upset customers (hardly unique), and the use of child labor were eventually contained.
However, Jobs had a hand in all of these, and without him it likely will take some time for this organization to fully adjust to this decision gap. I’m hearing that there are large groups of folks at Apple who are rudderless at the moment, which is not uncommon when a micromanager departs.
The combination of high volume and an inability to contain problems quickly is likely to result in things getting blown out of proportion and into scandal territory.
This year, I began to think that Silicon Valley should change its name to Scandal Valley, but then I doubt it will ever really hold a candle to Washington, D.C. These things often come down to someone who should know better doing something stupid and getting caught doing it. With every smartphone user a potential Internet reporter, regardless of where the scandal actually is, technology will likely be at the center of it.
My personal choice is that the tech market becomes more about capturing than creating scandals going forward, but given history, I doubt my choice will come to be.
One thing is sure: In an election year, the likelihood there will be a scandal is very high. The only question is, who will get credit for capturing that next embarrassing moment?
Product of the Week: TiVo Premier Elite
The TiVo Premier Elite is the TiVo I didn’t know I’d always wanted. I’ve been a TiVo user since the beginning and currently have four of them in my house. The problem was that I still missed programs due to double-booking, and often programs I wanted to watch weren’t on the same TiVo (and you can’t get a view of all of the TiVos on one screen).
This new TiVo Premier Elite was just what the doctor ordered, and I’ve noted that all four tuners are lit up (the front panel shows recording activity) a surprising amount of the time, suggesting a six-tuner model might eventually be needed.
The only problem with this product, and the Premier class, is that it is a bit underpowered, so the menus are often annoyingly slow. Once playing, however, the programs are sharp and the two terabytes of capacity and THX sound are greatly appreciated.
Eventually TiVo will be made obsolete by services like Hulu, but today these services lack so many programs that they just aren’t that useful by themselves, and the TiVo does a nice job linking to both Hulu Pro and Netflix for streaming content you may not have recorded. As a result, the TiVo Premier Elite isn’t just my product of the week, but is also on my short list for product of the year.