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13 tech trends that would have terrified us ten years ago

Ten years ago we could have foreseen choppy waters in the not so distant future. But little could we envisage some of the horrors that we face today. Here are 13 of the scariest, most terrifying tech trends of the 21st century, all in the name of the Halloween spirit.
By Zack Whittaker, Contributor on
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1 of 13 Seth Rosenblatt/CNET

Surveillance state: A secret no more?

A decade ago, we could have mused about the U.S. government "spying on everything we do." In fact, in 2007, The Simpsons Movie made exactly that joke when the world-renown family was on the run from the law.  The cartoon's creator Matt Groening was probably chuckling to himself as he mapped out the plot, to which a massive room of spies are listening to the conversations of everyone talk on the phone.

And yet, only a few years later, former U.S. National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden evades his former employers by jumping on a flight to Russia where he claimed asylum, not long after pilfering thousands of top secret and classified documents relating to the U.S. government's (and its allies) surveillance efforts.

With PRISM and Upstream, Tempora, and dozens of other programs, the U.S. really has the ability — at very least — to monitor to our calls (despite claims by President Obama to the contrary). It turns out The Simpsons' were indeed onto something all those years ago.

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2 of 13 Microsoft

Malware gets worse, cyberweapons confirmed

Ten years ago, Windows XP was all the rage. Apple had only a sliver of the desktop operating system pie at the time. And thus, it was rarely attacked by hackers and malware writers. But as Apple machines became popular towards the end of the last decade Mac malware began to boom. The Cupertino, Calif.-based technology giant was even forced to remove claims that its Mac machines don't get viruses.

From the desktop and into the palms of our hands, smartphones exploded in popularity. Malware writers and cybercriminals began targeting Android devices, which remain at the top of the mobile market share space. Even iPhones and BlackBerrys, though significantly bolstered in terms of app and ecosystem security, were prime pickings for data thieves and cyber-scammers. 

And those cyberbaddies weren't limited to basement-dwelling folk. The U.S. government was  also scouring for the latest malware exploits so they could install it on adversaries' machines in order to spy, surveil, or surreptitiously shut down their operations. From Flame to Gauss and Stuxnet, these state-sponsored strands of malware were enough to temporarily cripple Iran's nuclear ambitions, according to reports. 

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3 of 13 Josh Miller/CNET

Children and cyberbullying

Bullying has long been an issue among the youth of today. Back ten years ago, it was relegated mostly to the school playground, or isolated incidents between squabbling friends. Today, almost every child in the double-digit age bracket has a smartphone. As a result, the scope in which verbal and physical attacks take place has increased significantly. 

Cyberbulling has become such an epidemic among today's children that it has led to legislation being drafted by state and federal governments around the world in attempts to curb the problem. But until the education system and legislators alike come to some common ground on the matter, many more cases will lead to tragic circumstances — an all too regular occurrence in modern times.

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4 of 13 CNET

The rise and fall of BlackBerry

In 2003, BlackBerry was one of the powerhouses to the emerging smartphone market. Doubling its base to one million in just a year, every year from thereon in saw the Canadian phone maker's subscriber base rise exponentially.

Even during the height of the 2008 global financial crisis, while BlackBerry had the enterprise market nailed, many ordinary consumers were jumping on the keyboard-enabled bandwagon as the cheaper option during times of personal fiscal responsibility. And where others failed to grasp the "hidden" markets around the world — the emerging and developing nations — BlackBerry had that vast populous nailed down perfectly.

And then it started to go downhill when the other mobile makers, notably Apple, Samsung, HTC, and Motorola douse to the market with a number of killer hot devices that would eventually see BlackBerry users jump off the cart to its rivals. By 2012, the company began to shed millions of users and dwindle in employee count. After a number of poor fiscal financial quarters, BlackBerry announced it was considering putting itself up for sale.

In a year's time from now, we may be lucky to see BlackBerry survive as it is today. It's looking more likely that it will be split up and sold on for spare parts to anyone who wants a piece of its vast intellectual property and patent portfolio.

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5 of 13 CNET

PC market in freefall, tablets crush sales

The PC has held up near endless jibes and fads over the course of the past twenty years — the last decade in particular. But when the new slate-like tablet form factor arrived a little over three years ago, little did we realize at the time exactly what impact it would have on the traditional desktop and notebook PC business. 

Let's blame the iPad, first and foremost. Introduced by Apple in 2010, it began to eat into the PC market's profits and margins. Not just that, it reached a point where the fruit-themed shiny rectangle, which remains the most popular tablet device on the market, began to cannibalize the same company's Mac business.

While tablets and the rise of part-phone, part-tablet "phablets" are leaving their mark on the market that has for so long held its weight in the tech field, the impact is spreading far and wide. Chipmakers and hardware makers were forced to diversify their product ranges to hit all walks of gadgetry life in a bid to stay afloat.

PCs are far from dead yet. But exactly how long they'll live remains unknown.

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6 of 13 James Martin/CNET

Cloud, outsourced IT gobbling up jobs

The cloud began to really take off during the mid-2000s as this seamless, almost magical thing that enabled you to store files and access them from any device at any time. And then platforms enabled developers to host their apps on the Web, and make them available from the browser. That's when things began to really unravel for many working in IT.

Nowadays, practically everything is hosted in the cloud. Thanks for everything, IT support staff. See you later, in-house infrastructure. Sayonara, security jobs. Now relegated to managed datacenters, there isn't much of a need to keep half the staff companies once had. And for those running call centers and other technical jobs: why not just outsource it to foreign climes? India's lovely this time of year. And the assembly line robots in China seldom complain about the long hours or the working conditions.

We have to face the reality that many jobs are now extinct as a result of outsourcing to the cloud. It's also created many — in reality, we're talking about a shift of jobs rather than the destruction of the job market, per se. But at least you can thank your bottom line (and management, which isn't going anywhere) for the emerging trend.

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7 of 13 ZDNet

The multi-million dollar Obamacare site that didn't work

You would think that after several years and millions of dollars of investment, one single website might be able to cope with a good hearty slice of the population all visiting at once. Alas, no. Healthcare.gov crumbled on its first day, and almost everyone visiting was impacted by the government's worst IT snafu seen during Obama's second run in the Oval Office.

It's not just about keeping a website afloat. If Reddit, Imgur, Google, and the BBC News can stay up and running, so can Healthcare.gov, surely? That wasn't the problem. It was the backend infrastructure that failed. Databases weren't syncing, pages weren't loading, and forms were broken. Enter your data once, twice, three times, and for many it would slip behind the technology couch never to be seen again.

The American people were subject to the Healthcare.gov "beta test." Things should be ticking over nicely by 2014 when the Affordable Care Act is meant to really kick in. (At least, let's hope so.)

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8 of 13 Google

So many Android versions, so much fragmentation hell

Android has become the most popular smartphone platform, thanks to its reach and spread across various different devices and manufacturers. But Google, which develops Android, is regularly mocked by Apple for having a fragmentation issue. So many devices in the world, and yet more than half are running older versions.

Developers, first and foremost, are suffering the most, as they try to tailor their apps to as many people as they can. Many are still running Android versions more than three years old because the cellular carriers and phone makers are not supporting the latest versions of Android. Why? It's probably because they want their customers to ditch their old phones and spend, spend, spend even more on the latest and greatest. A conspiracy? Maybe, maybe not. Either way, it's not stopping Google. The search giant is still trying desperately to fix it.

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9 of 13 Rick Broida/CNET

Hacks and data breaches are all too commonplace

A decade ago, hackers were mostly unseen. They were occasionally glamorized in the movies, but they were often few and far between in terms of numbers. They were not as popular as they were today, where almost anyone can be with the tools available on the darkest corners of the Web.

Hackers have exploded in numbers. Attacks are taking place all the time. Almost indiscriminate in nature, your cloud-stored data is at risk every minute of the day. With lax security and poor IT policies, millions of people's data last year alone was swiped by the unauthorized. Data breaches are becoming increasingly commonplace. For a time last year, it seemed as though there was a hack every week. 

And once hackers began to target the financial industry and credit card institutions, what was once the safest thing (bar the economy tipping over and sinking every few years) was reduced to a humble, bumbling mess.

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10 of 13 CNET

Silicon Valley: The rich just get richer

Ten years ago we were at the height of the financial markets. Our respective Western nations were rich. Economies were stable. At least, so we thought. The 2008 global recession saw how fragile we were. In the space of just a few months, the Western banking system came close to utter collapse. 

The vast majority of technology companies, which were considered relatively stable in terms of investments, struggled but powered through the heart of the financial meltdown. As the ordinary folk on the street began to penny pinch and save as much as they could — when they could — despite soaring prices and life expenses, the richer got even richer, and Silicon Valley giants just got bigger and bigger. 

Google hit the breakthrough $1,000 per share price mark, while Apple has a market value of around half-a-trillion dollars. Microsoft, despite its strategy shift to devices and services in recent years, remains a cluster bomb of billion dollar businesses. And what do we get out of it? Sure, we'll get the shiny new product and business-powering services, but who's going to pay for our healthcare or pensions? 

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11 of 13 Google/stock image

Oversharing, overkill

With Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Flickr, and dozens of other mainstream sharing services on the Web, we know far, far too much about almost everyone in our lives. The youth of today with smartphones in their pockets are snapping almost every photo, tweeting every incidental thing, sharing on Facebook their hates and gripes, and frankly their older, more mature counterparts aren't that much better.

The National Security Agency doesn't to spend billions of dollars from a "black budget" on high-tech surveillance systems. Half the time they just need to hit "friend", "subscribe", or "follow" on our various feeds. The culture we find ourselves in today has morphed to such a point that the very notion of privacy has become diluted. Goodness knows what will happen when teenagers will graduate from school and attempt to gain employment, when their "hidden" resumes are only a cursory Google search away.

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12 of 13 Renew London

Adverts. Adverts everywhere.

"Buy this." Or not. "Look at this new shiny thing." Or don't. Everywhere you look someone or something is trying to sell you something. Not content with the traditional ways and means, advertisers are becoming increasingly desperate to infiltrate almost every walk of life. 

From garbage bins to viral billboards, your Facebook stream, and even the apps you use on your phone or laptop. Advertising is overkill in this day and age.

Back ten years ago, the thought of your favorite television shows having "subliminal" adverts peppered throughout. Oh no, a murder, but who will solve the case? The award-winning anthropologist who is more interested in showing you the latest features on Windows Phone than hunting down the killer. It spoils the show, and we all know it. Advertisers are even placing ads on the Web using your own photo. And what can you do about it? Well, you can always turn it off, but not in every given case.

No wonder New Yorkers hate Times Square, the Mecca of all advertisers, so very, very much. 

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13 of 13 CNET

Windows 8: Where did the 'windows' go?

Ten years ago, Windows XP was installed on almost every client computer in the Western market. On its tenth anniversary, Windows 7 was pegged as the next best thing, cutting frail Windows Vista out of the picture with only a meager usage share of a single-digit percent.

But with the launch of Windows 8, many are sticking to their guns and holding off from installing the latest operating system from the Redmond, Wash.-based software giant. Why? It doesn't even feel like Windows anymore, some say. Microsoft suffered a "too many cooks" problem, with so many people influencing the development process. In a design-by-committee, they wanted to design a horse and came out with a visual Godzilla.

While it's far from a "failed" operating system, many enterprise and business customers are holding off their upgrades until Windows 8.1 — the iterative update to the flawed software — hits the market. At least with the latest version, users can boot-to-desktop without having to face a sea of tiles and nonsense.

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