Top Ten Data Fails of 2014

Publicis-Omnicom, Sony and eBay Top the List of Data-Related Flubs in 2014

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Many have called 2014 the year of the data breach, yet despite a flood of media reports detailing breaches and leaks this year, hacks were not the only data-related hits big brands and corporations took this year.

Publicis and Omnicom Merger Dies
It was supposed to be a big win for big data. When Publicis Groupe and Omnicom Group announced a $35 billion mega-merger in July of 2013, the firms made a point of telling investors their combined scale would lead to greater efficiencies fueled by their combined pool of data and analytics-based insights. More than nine months later, the holding company behemoths parted ways, announcing the death of the deal.

Sony Pictures Hacked
In November, the film studio became the subject of a hack which has resulted in a stream of data leaks of unreleased film content, executive salary information, embarrassing email exchanges and celebrity contact information. As reported by The New York Times, alleged hackers Guardians of Peace are associated with the North Korean government, which is reportedly offended by an unreleased Sony film called "The Interview" about journalists involved in an assassination plot against North Korea leader Kim Jong-un. In addition to the cancellation of the film's opening and damage to the Sony brand, the breach could have broader implications for U.S.-North Korea relations.

Ebay User Data Exposed
In May, hackers exposed personal data associated with 145 million users of the auction site, more than double the number of people affected by the Target data breach.

Uber Gets Creepy
Uber has come under fire for underhanded tactics used to defeat the competition and establish loyal clientele in new cities. But its "God View" capability also attracted critics. The option allowed privileged users to track Uber vehicles in a given city. Another more extreme version, reportedly called "Creepy Stalker View," allowed viewers to watch where specific customers were traveling via the service.

Google Forced to Remove Search Results
Google in December said it had removed more than 675,000 URLs from its search results since May, when it launched a privacy program required by the European Union. The Right to be Forgotten ruling allows EU citizens to apply to Google requesting that the firm no longer index pages containing outdated information. In November, the EU expanded the rule, telling the digital giant the Right to be Forgotten rule applied to all of Google, not just its European country-specific domains.

Apple Cloud Is Compromised
Apple has made a point of stressing the privacy protections incorporated into its products, but in September that reputation was sullied by the exposure of nude celebrity photos stored in the Apple cloud. The photos were leaked on sites including 4Chan and Reddit. Apple blamed targeted attacks on celebs such as Kate Upton and Jennifer Lawrence, denying its own systems were breached.

Home Depot Data Leak
The home improvement supplies chain was compromised in November, when a breach exposed details of 56 million credit and debit card accounts and 53 million email addresses.

Facebook Toys with Emotions
Facebook has a history of employing data in ways its users are not always comfortable with. So it went with a research study conducted by Facebook's data scientists that surfaced in an academic publication in June. Facebook researchers measured the impact of positive and negative posts on around 700,000 users in a study conducted in January 2012. The study sparked a firestorm among fellow academic researchers and observers who accused Facebook of unfairly manipulating its users' emotions.

NYC Says No to Titan Phone Booth Beacons
A lengthy report published in Buzzfeed in October detailed the installation of beacons -- which pick up blue tooth signals in mobile devices and can push out ad messages and offers -- in 500 New York City phone booths. Hours after the story came out and caused an uproar, Mayor Bill de Blasio's office asked the outdoor ad firm that worked with the city to enable the program, Titan, to remove the devices.

Truste Settles with FTC
In the absence of up-to-date comprehensive federal privacy and data breach laws, the advertising, tech and data industries and consumers are reliant on self-regulatory bodies and consumer watchdogs to ensure relevant privacy standards. Truste, one of the best-known providers of privacy services, in November, settled with the Federal Trade Commission which alleged the company failed to perform annual re-certifications of firms that used its privacy seal.