2011: Riots and revolutions: How we all changed the world

2011 was where you and I both formed a collective with millions of others worldwide, to protest, to ally with, and to empathise with, in order to make the world a better place.
Written by Zack Whittaker, Contributor

The world is almost unrecognisable from a year ago. And we were the ones who changed it.

From widespread hacking to Steve Jobs' death, region-wide protests and patent wars. The web was free and open, and unlikely to be threatened, while the Arab world was bubbling under the surface, ready to take on their governments in a region-wide series of revolutions.

2011 has brought a wealth of change to not just in technology circles, but the wider global community.

Change should be, above any other word, the word of the year. Between you and I, from Wikileaks to one man alone sparking a revolution, we all played our part in changing the world.

From the most popular highlights to the crucial events that really mattered, here's how we did it.

(Source: Flickr)

January: Wikileaks subpoena threatens 600,000; Mass copyright milestone

Wikileaks was at the top of the new year's agenda, after a subpoena brought by the U.S. government threatened the privacy over 600,000 users of Twitter. Anyone who followed or interacted with @wikileaks fell under the scope of the subpoena, including an Icelandic member of Parliament who has diplomatic immunity.

Separately, the U.S. mass copyright lawsuit marker was set to hit the 100,000 mark as of January, as part of preliminary plans to set up efforts in the online piracy battle. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) came to the rescue by attempting to quash the subpoenas, but "copyright trolls who game the system" were still targeting many.

February: Egyptian uprising, revolution spreads across Africa, Middle East

The Arab Spring was one of the most talked about events of the year, with millions taking to the streets to protest against their oppressive regimes and governments.

Twitter and Facebook were key communication tools, and a force for change. With social media blocked and Internet connections to entire swaths of population cut off, this provocation only spurred on of the causes they set out to accomplish.

The "Twitter generation" relied on fax machines to dial up networking in efforts to break through the technological barriers installed by resistive states. While Western technology companies like Vodafone were caught in the fray, one thing was made clear. A technology may be defunct, but it does not mean it is no longer useful.

March: BlackBerry faces dark days; facing Facebook exclusion

Research in Motion began feeling the pressure as the BlackBerry maker was criticised by analysts as being a 'broken brand'. The brand at the time was secure, even if the company was not. It would be over half a year later where the brand itself would begin to suffer when over half the global BlackBerry population would lose service over a period of four days.

In the meantime, exams were looming for this then iGeneration columnist, and Facebook was crucially getting in the way. By 'killing off' Facebook for a week, social exclusion was to be faced head on. In the end, giving up a social media platform -- seemingly intrinsic to the Generation Y's daily life -- was likened to giving up smoking, in that it was difficult at first, but became easier over time.

April: Patriot Act series; Royal Wedding; ZDNet hits 20th anniversary

Theory was all good and well in ZDNet's Patriot Act series, where the U.S. counter-terror and surveillance laws were scrutinised and examined in detail. But it would be nothing without proof or industry reaction.

Away from politics, an estimated 2 billion people watched as the future king Prince William and Kate Middleton were married. The world interacted with meme's and Twitter hashtags, as the most watched event of the Noughties.

ZDNet also celebrated its 20th anniversary. What used to be a CompuServe subscription is now one of the most visited technology websites in the world. It was another opportunity to show how the world has changed by the humble Millenial during the time ZDNet has been on our screens.

May: Super-injunctions, Twitter's 'freedom of speech' moment

A very British affair, the entire UK population was gagged from mentioning the persons involved. Brits were also prevented from discussing the gagging order that was imposed, in what became the biggest story we couldn't talk about this year.

Confused? So were we.

Twitter was seen as a possible outlet for those who thought they could break the nationwide gagging order, which prevented the details of a number of held-in-secret court cases from being disclosed.

But in a near-anniversary editorial, it was made clear that the United Kingdom no longer had freedom of speech; arguably without a written constitution, perhaps we never did?

June: Microsoft admits Patriot Act risk; LulzSec disbands with a bang

After over a year of work, Microsoft, as a key player in the global cloud industry, admitted to ZDNet that European data held in the cloud by U.S.-based cloud providers is vulnerable to U.S. law enforcement inspection.

Through open discussion and real-time question and answering, ZDNet readers directly shaped and influenced the research, which would go on to change European law.

Meanwhile, hacking group LulzSec disbanded after fifty days of attacks on law enforcement, private industry and consumer services, as the net closed in around its members. In its final cache of released data, hackers targeted AT&T, and over 750,000 of its user accounts were released onto the web. Internal data pertaining to its 4G LTE rollout was also leaked by the hacking group.

July: Europe demands answers to reach U.S. law; Arab Spring retrospective

Hot on the tails of Microsoft's stark admission, the European Parliament demanded answers into claims that its laws were not protecting its citizens against 'third-country' law, including the United States. Members of the Parliament submitted written requests to the European Commission, its executive body, for clarification.

Along with this, citizen journalism was back in the spotlight after we looked back retrospectively at the Arab Spring, which had subdued over the summer months. How ordinary citizens play their part in reporting the newswas also discussed in detail.

August: England riots in the 'thick of it'; AntiSec movement begins

Riots spread across England's capital and to other major cities in the UK, after a man was shot and killed by armed police in Tottenham, London. After days of violence, the police increased its numbers on the streets tenfold and calmed erupting tensions.

In the thick of it, this new criminologist wanted to stay longer and explore. But what was clear is that social media did not start the riots on the most part, but various technologies like BlackBerry Messenger were being used to organise and perpetuate violence and disorder.

Meanwhile, I had joined the ranks of ZDNet's Between the Lines.

Also this month, even though LulzSec had disbanded, it appeared to 'morph' into the wider Anonymous hacktivist collective. With this, Operation Anti-Security -- or 'AntiSec' as it was commonly known -- began. A vast amount of data from law enforcement was stolen, with hackers focusing on targets with lax or poor security in place.

September: World remembers 9/11; Facebook's impending mass exodus?

While for some it was hard to believe that 10 years had passed since one of the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil in the country's history, it was marked with poignant and reflective stories of the dayby ZDNet columnists.

Considering the Patriot Act had stemmed from the day itself, I gave a frank then-and-now insight into why it was necessary to investigate the lawand its reach outside of the U.S.' territory.

Facebook also announced its Timeline profile page revamp at its f8 conference in September, much to the delight and dismay of many. Likened to a "stalker's paradise", many had taken it upon themselves to activate the new feature to access their old content in a bid to prevent others from seeing their past indiscretions.

Meanwhile, a German court -- though lifted a Europe-wide embargo on Samsung's Galaxy Tab sales -- still imposed a ban on the tablet in the country, amidst an ongoing global patent war.

Facebook's frictionless sharing feature came under fire as well during September, with Spotify updating its software to counteract the complaints made by many, that song tracks listened to were updating the social network.

October: Steve Jobs dies; Worldwide BlackBerry outage

When the news broke that Apple co-founder Steve Jobs had died, within hours the masses found themselves outside their local Apple Stores and at the Apple headquarters in Cupertino, also.

He inspired not only an entire generation, but also how society worked, lived, and interacted with technology.

Also this month, BlackBerry services across at least four continents were disrupted for a period of over four days. A datacenter near London failed, which had knock-on after effects to other parts of the BlackBerry infrastructure. Users were left without data, from browsing to social media and email. The corporate response underestimated how bad things soon then became.

Towards the end of November, ZDNet's London Calling column kicked off, and the exploration into the UK and Europe began.

November: UC Davis and citizen journalism; Europe responds to Patriot Act

Video showing the pepper-spray assault on peaceful student protesters took the web by storm, as many were quick to condemn the actions by law enforcement as the furore continued to rise.

The official line given by the police was negated by the vast number of citizen journalists who had taken camera-phone footage, with the lines of 'spin' crumbling around the university's administration.

On the other side of the world, Europe responded to the concerns made by ZDNet and its readers that the Patriot Act could access cloud-stored data. It was confirmed that updated European laws would close the loophole, while some members of the European Parliament called for it to be 'patched' sooner rather than later.

In the UK, it was discovered that London's police service, based at Scotland Yard, bought blanket surveillance technology to remotely track and shut down mobile phones, an act which angered civil liberties campaigners.

SOPA, the online anti-piracy bill, reared its head during November, as the opposition intensified. Arguing that the 'broken web' should stay broken, the free and open web as we know it is under threat, and would jeopardise its very existence.

At the end of November, I left my iGeneration column of over 3 years behind, and handed it over to Charlie Osborne to continue.

December: Carrier IQ; SOPA anti-piracy bill; Government spying

Out of nowhere, it was found that millions of smartphones around the world were silently tracking and collecting data on its users. Carrier IQ was found on many networks and handsets, and its makers are set in the crosshairs by the Senate.

It was not just the private industry tracking you, though. Wikileaks' Spy Files cache showed how governments and private industry alike could spy on you. The new files show how easy it is to inject downloads in progress with spy software, and even use ISP-level surveillance to access others' computers and personal data.

As SOPA began its descent into the new year, it was found that many of the main proponents behind the online piracy battle were pirating content from the web. A new website showed that IP addresses belonging to the RIAA and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security downloaded illegally copyrighted material.

Yet across the pond to Europe, new European data laws were leaked and found to align proposed legislation to other heavy-duty European directives. This first look at the law showed that companies could be fined on a massive scale should the data laws be flouted.

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All in all, the world has changed vastly since this time last year. We've all left our mark as part of the Anonymous collective, whether we subscribe to its values and ethos or even methods, or not. In how we support our partners in the Middle East and North Africa during their fight for freedom, to defending our rights to a free and open web.

How did we change the world in 2011? A little bit at a time.


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