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33 Of Our Favorite Tech Stories From 2016

Fake news. Apple versus the FBI. Twitter's abuse problem. 2016 was as bizarre online as it was IRL, and BuzzFeed Tech chronicled it all. Here are our 33 biggest and best stories of the year.

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"Facebook instituted its policy banning private gun sales with little explanation, but it followed a series of mass murders that turned location names like Newtown, Aurora, and Charleston into shorthand for shooting sprees. San Bernardino joined the list in December 2015 when two ISIS supporters opened fire on a civic meeting there with AR-15 variants, killing 14 people. A month later, Facebook banned private sales of guns on its social network. At least in theory.

I bought the AR-15 I found on Facebook just down the road from San Bernardino. Finding my gun on Facebook was simple since firearms are openly posted for sale there."

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The food delivery startup Blue Apron wants to revolutionize the food system by selling would-be home cooks all the ingredients they need to make a meal without setting foot in the grocery store. But a BuzzFeed News investigation in October found that in the rush to scale its supply chain at the speed of startup, the company has had health and safety violations, violent incidents, and unhappy workers at one of its packing facilities.

"For nearly its entire existence, Twitter has not just tolerated abuse and hate speech, it’s virtually been optimized to accommodate it. Despite its integral role in popular culture and in social justice initiatives from the Arab Spring to Black Lives Matter, Twitter is as infamous today for being as toxic as it is famous for being revolutionary. And unless you’re a celebrity — or, as it turns out, the president of the United States of America — good luck getting help."

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Beauty startup Glossier, launched in 2014, quickly ascended to cult status through a curious alchemy of market research, calculated intimacy, and the ineffable coolness of its founder, figurehead, and often model, Emily Weiss.

"The startup's revenue is on track to grow 600% in 2016, and it expects to grow several hundred percent next year as well. Fashion and beauty blogs now cover the company’s font choice, packaging, product launches, and inevitable product sellouts like Apple fanboys awaiting WWDC. Its signature washed-out pink has become so iconic that fans use the hashtag #glossierpink when they see the color in the wild."

"Apple is no stranger to killing things people use all the time — and even love. But the headphone jack? It’s on a whole other level than disc drives or ports named after their number of pins. The headphone jack predates not only Apple, but computers themselves. And it is ubiquitous.

With the iPhone 7, Apple is arguing that the future of audio is wireless, that the world’s current assumptions about mobile audio are not only antiquated, but worthy of immediate abandonment."

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"Over the past year, the Macedonian town of Veles (population 45,000) has experienced a digital gold rush as locals launched at least 140 US politics websites. These sites have American-sounding domain names such as WorldPoliticus.com, TrumpVision365.com, USConservativeToday.com, DonaldTrumpNews.co, and USADailyPolitics.com. They almost all publish aggressively pro-Trump content aimed at conservatives and Trump supporters in the US."

Less than 1% of Myanmar had internet access until 2014. Now the country is getting online at an astonishing rate — but so is fake news and anti-Muslim sentiment. BuzzFeed News traveled to Myanmar to report on what happens when everyone you know joins Facebook at the same time.

More people are using more devices more often than ever before. Increasingly, that’s a pain point.

"To be a perpetually plugged-in, emailing, texting, sexting, swiping, Snapchatting, selfie-taking human being in 2016, a little thumb twinge is the price of admission. There are the media-anointed outliers: the Candy Crusher with a ruptured thumb tendon, the woman who over-texted her way to “WhatsAppitis.” And then there are people like the 18-year-old woman who said, “If I’m scrolling down Tumblr for more than half an hour, my fingers will get sore.” A 30-year-old software engineer said his fingers “naturally curl inwards,” claw-like: “I remember my hand did not quite use to be like that.”

Dr. Patrick Lang, a San Francisco hand surgeon, sees more and more twenty- and thirtysomething tech employees with inexplicable debilitating pain in their upper limbs. 'I consider it like an epidemic,' he said, 'particularly in this city.'”

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"As a 'cuckkike' member of the 'lugenpresse,' one frequently up to the 'Jewish tricks' of trying to 'spread fake news' about the new right internet, I spent much of this year absorbing horrific online abuse: anonymous death threats, ad hominem screeds, gas chamber memes about dead relatives, phone calls to my bewildered parents, and so on.

Yet, way far down, in the furthest vantablack depths of my Twitter mentions, amid the eggs and the Pepes and the iron crosses and the 'Heinrich Hammlers,' I glimpsed this fall a glimmer of hope, and a potential way forward for all of us. He’s my anti-troll troll, a potty-mouthed, gold-hearted anonymous internet do-gooder with seemingly nothing better to do than troll the people who have nothing better to do than troll me."

"The prototypical Apple demo person is someone I’ll call Apple Man. Apple Man is a fortysomething dad who just wants to FaceTime his adorable children while he’s on a business trip, and also find a local pourover coffee shop while he’s in town. Apple Man has an Apple Watch (obvious). He needs a way to manage his photos of his adorable children and hiking trips with friends. He loves jogging and mountain biking and wants to use his Apple Watch to monitor his workouts, because he LOVES working out. Apple Man is very fit for his age — you can just barely tell he’s totally ripped through his light blue, off-the-rack, wrinkle-free, button-down shirt. Apple Man has a great head of hair. Apple Man owns his home and wants to be able to open his garage door from his phone to park his family-sensible-yet-sporty-crossover. (He’s on the Tesla Model 3 preorder list.) Apple Man wants to track his health, but of course he has no need for a period tracker. His calendar is full; his inbox is zero.

If you're like me, this feels not really relevant to your life. New features for Apple Watch hint that the company is thinking beyond just fit DILFs as users."

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"When Katie Gallion’s Uber driver started swerving across the road’s rumble strips only 15 minutes into her ride near Durham, North Carolina, on June 3, she decided to give him a pass. At 10 p.m., it was dark outside and raining hard, she told BuzzFeed News. She didn’t know he’d polished off four beers before starting to drive for Uber that night."

Started in part with CIA money, the data-analysis company Palantir promised that its software would revolutionize everything from espionage to consumer businesses, and it has grown in both revenue and employees. But BuzzFeed News discovered Palantir has also lost blue-chip clients, is struggling to stem staff departures, and has recorded revenue that is just a fraction of its customer bookings.

"The internet exploded in enraged disbelief when Apple unveiled the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus — minus headphone jacks. But, as I discovered while testing the device in the days that followed the keynote, a phone is much more than the sum of its ports."

"In December, BuzzFeed News discovered that the medical records of over 43,000 people have been accidentally made public after being put online by a pathology lab in Mumbai. The reports contain confidential details like names, addresses, dates of birth, and blood test results. They also include details of patients who have had blood tests done for HIV detection. Some included in the breach are as young as 17.

The reports, which the pathology lab Health Solutions was storing in an unprotected folder on its website, were accessible to anyone with the right URL. BuzzFeed News was able to access the folder via a simple Google search."

"League of Legends, a multiplayer online battle arena game, is the most popular video game and one of the most-watched esports in the world. One hundred million people play it on their PCs every month. Riot Games, which created League of Legends, raked in $1.6 billion in revenue in 2015. Professional LoL teams, by contrast, say they’re having trouble making enough money to sustain themselves."

Back in February, BuzzFeeds News broke the story that Twitter was planning to break with years of tradition to introduce an algorithmic timeline. The timeline reorders tweets based on what Twitter’s algorithm thinks people most want to see, which is a departure from the current feed’s reverse chronological order.

"You may not know him by name just yet, but he’s one of the most powerful people alive. Google’s new CEO Sundar Pichai wants to bring the internet to the rest of the world, all while winning back your trust."

"In February, FBI technicians were locked out of San Bernardino shooter Syed Rizwan Farook’s phone, and they were desperate for a key. The government said Apple had helped it extract data from iPhones roughly 70 times in the past, but Apple had never done what a court was ordering it do: create software to crack its own security features for the FBI. An FBiOS, if you will."

"Uber says that its drivers are as much its customers as its passengers are, and that its ride-hail platform is a path to personal freedom and financial independence. But according to leaked internal price modeling data, and Uber’s own calculations provided to BuzzFeed News in response to that leak, drivers in some markets don’t take home much more than service workers at major chains like Walmart when it comes to net pay.

Uber data suggests that drivers overall in three major U.S. markets — Denver, Detroit, and Houston — earned less than $13.25 an hour after expenses in late 2015, according to calculations based on more than a million trips."

"The fast, bare-bones version of Facebook made it more usable for people living in the poorly connected locations it rolled out in — countries like India, Uganda, and Bolivia. More importantly, 0.Facebook could be accessed for free in those countries, without any associated data costs, thanks to deals Facebook made with carriers. The internet? That would cost you —but 0.Facebook was free of charge.

But then Facebook’s massive push to bring the world online hit a wall of activists and government regulators who argue that its free service violates basic principles of an open, free, and fair internet."

A medical marijuana and criminal defense lawyer from Southern California has made himself into the country’s leading defender of hackers. Can he save his clients from the worst law in technology — and themselves?

"This spring, C3 Silicon Valley (C3SV) — an independent offshoot of a Pentecostal megachurch, with three Bay Area locations — posted a rap video on its Facebook wall advertising Easter services. The lyrics were written by a former Google employee who now works full-time as a pastor for the church, and they are heavily laced with startup lingo.

'I’ve made so many errors you can’t even debug it / Like an elephant in the room, there’s no seeing above it / Got a job making money, but don’t even love it,' a young black man dressed like Mark Zuckerberg tells the camera. Quick cuts of distraught people and graffiti-covered buildings flash by as he continues rhyming about faith, skepticism, and venture capital: 'If I had a startup, it would get a network effect / The valuation goes up, but is my value still met?'"

"In April 2012, in an effort to curb content that promotes self-injury, Instagram rendered key hashtags related to eating disorders unsearchable, added content advisory warnings over others, and disabled accounts that promoted eating disorders and other acts of self-harm.

But as well-intentioned as it may have been, Instagram’s approach backfired. 'You could still find things just as easily, unfortunately,' Hannah Coombs, who lives near London and is now recovering at age 17, told BuzzFeed News. 'In hindsight, it almost made the problem worse because there are hundreds of hashtags, instead of just, like, a couple.'”

"It’s the dead of winter in Stockholm and I’m sitting in a very small room inside the very inaptly named Calm Body Modification clinic. A few feet away sits the syringe that will, soon enough, plunge into the fat between my thumb and forefinger and deposit a glass-encased microchip roughly the size of an engorged grain of rice."

The electric car startup Faraday Future is heading into a hyped-up reveal of its first production car after a year fraught with financial troubles, employee attrition, and lawsuits.

“We asked for numbers about the financing and we just got a different story each time,” Dan Schwartz, Nevada's state treasurer, told BuzzFeed News. “I truly don’t believe they have any money.”

"Skipping meals has a monkish new spin, courtesy of Silicon Valley. Every Wednesday at 8 a.m., members of a group called WeFa.st gather at a casual order-at-the-counter kind of San Francisco cafe for what they call a biohacker breakfast. The restaurant varies, but the meal is always awash with the relief of finally being able to eat."

As Facebook attempted to capture the fast-moving energy of the news cycle from Twitter, and shied away from policing political content, it created a system that played to confirmation bias and set the stage for fake news during the 2016 presidential election.

Internal emails seen by BuzzFeed News reveal an emerging tension at the Unicode Consortium — the peculiar, little-known 24-year-old organization that was established to develop standards for translating alphabets into code — aka emoji — that can be read across all computers and operating systems.

BuzzFeed News discovered that, according to sources, interns produce much of Breitbart.com tech editor Milo Yiannopoulos’s work. Yiannopoulos says his practices are “completely standard.”

"Facebook has long offered users and businesses on its platform the same Faustian bargain: We’ll give you the tools for free and connect you with each other, and in return you give us the content that makes it all interesting and the data that makes it all lucrative. Facebook is a 12-year-old company now and we know how this story can unfold. The traffic that once seemed like a gift can turn and go elsewhere. But when the future looks so fragmented, those tools can be hard to resist."

BuzzFeed News obtained internal data on rapes and sexual assaults lodged via Uber’s customer service system, as the company attempted to find the leaker.According to data provided by Uber to BuzzFeed News, the company received five claims of rape and “fewer than” 170 claims of sexual assault directly related to an Uber ride as inbound tickets to its customer service database between December 2012 and August 2015.

From two llamas escaping an Arizona retirement community to fashion’s most notorious optical illusion, February 26, 2015, was the day that everyone — everyone — came together online to cheer, then argue. A year later, BuzzFeed News found the people who accidentally created a phenomenon and created an oral history of the internet’s perfect storm and what it wrought.

"Scroll to the bottom of any article about a pit bull on the internet with a reasonably active comment thread. There, you’re almost certain to find a few things: 1) a person who owns or rescues pit bulls and who swears that the breed is as sweet as pie and incapable of violence, 2) a person who has had a bad experience with a pit bull and swears that they’re an inherent menace, 3) a person with no direct connection to the breed who nevertheless has extremely strong feelings about them, and 4) these people flaming each other as if their lives depended on it."

Blake Montgomery is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in San Francisco.

Contact Blake Montgomery at blake.montgomery@buzzfeed.com.

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