Look, we can’t do this without at least mentioning the 2013 Qualcomm CES Keynote, perhaps remembered best as “Born Mobile.” It had everything: over-enthusiastic millennials, Guillermo del Toro, Maroon 5, NASCAR, surprise Steve Ballmer, and Big Bird in a tie. Watch it sometime. Lee HutchinsonIt’s been quite a decade. Tech surfed into the 2010s upon…
It’s been quite a decade. Tech surfed into the 2010s upon a huge wave of optimism and connection (Facebook!) but eventually wiped out on the shoals of cynicism and tribalism (Facebook!). Along the way, we cavorted with porn trolls, wept over the corpse of net neutrality, and stared into the unblinking eye of the digital surveillance state.
Here are the trends and tales that defined the last ten years of tech in the eyes of Ars. Treasure them in your hearts, for one day you might be called upon to retell the Legend of Prenda Law or to let your grandchildren know what it was like to believe in social media as a force for good. And lo, verily, they shall gaze upon you with wide eyes and ask, “No foolin’?” And you shall nod sagely as you stare off into the far distance and say: “No foolin’, kids. Ilivedit.”
Those crazy court cases
It’s hard to look back atanydecade in science and technology without a few cameos from the legal system. The 2010s, of course, were no different:Apple v. Samsungjust ended along battle over smartphone feature patents that impacted the marketplace (and company pocketbooks). AndOracle v. Googleis about to spill into the 2020s and potentially reverse a disastrous decision regarding software APIs.
But they weren’t the mostfascinating cases. That honor goes to these four, which turned courtroom filings into high drama:
US v Ulbricht: Perhaps the court case most likely to inspire a dramatic series or a true crime podcast, Ross Ulbricht was given a life sentence for his role in creating and maintaining the Silk Road online drug marketplace. The saga had dirty cops, copious amounts of drugs and cash, an alleged murder-for-hire attempt, and a dramatic library arrest—with Ulbricht’s laptop open and accessible.
US v. Hansmeier:For any longtime reader of Ars, the name “Prenda Law” is immediately recognizable. The Prenda firm specialized in a new form of porn trolling—they produced porn, then uploaded it to file-sharing sites, then sued the downloaders. Once they unmasked a downloader, Prenda would offer to settle the case outside for less than a lawyer would cost. Masterminds—and we use the term loosely—Paul Hansmeier and John Steele tried long and hard to cover their tracks, but in the end, both ended up with prison sentences.
Funny Junk v. The Oatmeal: This one started when Tuscon lawyer Charles Carreon demanded that Matt Inman, the creator of popular webcomic The Oatmeal, “deliver to me a check in the amount of $20,000” as payment for some things Inman had said about a site called FunnyJunk. Inman then responded by drawing a picture of a woman (possibly Carreon’s mom) seducing a bear. Inman also offered to take a photo of $200,000 he raised online for charities and to send that to Carreon. It all culminated in Carreon attempting to sue Inman, the National Wildlife Federation, the American Cancer Society, and 100 anonymous “Does” who had allegedly mocked or bullied Carreon online. Carreon ending up having to pay $46,100 in legal fees.
Newegg v. the “shopping cart” patent: “We basically took a look at this situation and said, ‘This is bullshit,’” Newegg’s Chief Legal Officer Lee Cheng told Ars when we asked about his company taking on Soverain Software and its “shopping cart” patent, covering (literally) online shopping carts. But after Soverain had sued more than 50 big retailers, they picked the wrong one with Cheng and Newegg—the lawsuit ended with the “shopping cart” patent being invalidated. It had been a robust decade for so-called patent trolls, but in 2017 the Supreme Court limited where patent holders could file their lawsuits, and the East Texas “rocket docket” patent pipeline dried up.