Look on the bright side, though: this year also turned out to be a year that provided an inordinate number of reminders that what computers do is follow instructions given to them by people. And people tend to write buggy software. When it fails, it can be startling, alarming, irritating, or darkly funny – or, sometimes, all of the above.
Attached are some, uh, highlights of the year in bugs, all of which involve glitches that were fixed, sooner or later.
The bugs that caused Gmail to not respect personal limits
A nagging flaw in the Google Play Services software for Android causes Gmail demand access to “body sensors” before allowing users to send emails. The sensors in question are for fitness apps, and Gmail doesn’t need access to them, which makes its claim even scarier.
why do i have to enable “body sensors” to use gmail? what is google after? quite sick of them.
— emm fee hates sports (@emm_fee) November 17, 2017
The bug that destroyed Wi-Fi
Belgian university researchers identify a vulnerability – dubbed “Krack” – that bypasses encryption built into the ubiquitous WPA2 Wi-Fi standard. The reality may be less alarming than theory, as online services tend to independently encrypt sensitive material, but a host of hardware and software makers are scrambling to release updates.
The bug Equifax probably wishes it had fixed
In September, the Equifax website, the linchpin of credit monitoring, is breached by someone who got away with sensitive information on up to 143 million Americans. This epic act of cyber-begging was only possible because Equifax installation failed a patch for its Apache web servers, even though it had been available for two months before the break-in.
The bug that confirmed everyone’s fears about smart speakers
android police Artem Russakovskii – one of the members of the media who got a first unit of the pint-sized Google Home Mini smart speaker from Google –discover this sound Mini records audio 24/7 and stores it on Google’s servers. Turns out an issue with the speaker’s touchscreen was to blame; Google responds by simply disabling the option to speak to the Mini by pressing the touchscreen. He ends up bringing some but not all features it removed.
The bug that made Google’s new phone click, click, click
Announced in October, Google’s new Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL phones offered a multitude of attractive features. But once they reached consumers, it became clear that they were also tormented by whims. A-the tendency to emit a mysterious high-pitched sound variously described as a click or a squeal— was found to be linked to the NFC chip.
The Bill Clinton-era bug that was finally fixed
Microsoft is releasing a patch for a Microsoft Office component called Equation Editor, originally released in November 2000. Security researchers had show that the software had a vulnerability that could allow someone to take control of your PC over the Internet and run code on it— and that the security features built into Windows and Office did not eliminate this danger.
The bug that made Twitter homophobic
Twitter users note this searching for terms such as #gay and #bisexual yields no results. The company apologizes, explaining that a bug in the algorithm it uses to flag adult content mistakenly hid all tweets relating to certain terms regardless of the nature of their use.
The bug that eliminated the need for those pesky passwords
First noted in an Apple support forum, a bug in Apple’s new High Sierra operating system allows Macs to be accessed with the “admin” username and no password, allow anyone who gets their hands on your computer to access your files. Less than a day after the issue gained notoriety, Apple rushes an auto-install fix and apologizes. And the skeptics come to growl whether the company’s historical reputation for robust security needs an overhaul.
The bug that undid the pesky bug fix that eliminated the need for pesky passwords
After fixing the bug that allowed anyone to log into a Mac High Sierra as an administrator, without a password, Apple released another update that (briefly) brings the bug back.
The bug that showed your friends you were using iOS 11
A problem with the autocorrect feature of Apple’s latest mobile operating system, iPhones replace an A and a weird character every time users type “I”, resulting in widespread typos across Facebook and Twitter. Some users resort to workarounds, while others seem blithely unaware that they are spreading gibberish.
— Katie Couric (@katiecouric) November 3, 2017
The bug that could let a stranger trash your home
In October, Amazon announced Amazon Key, a smart lock that allows its delivery people — or employees of Amazon partners such as housekeeping and dog-walking services — to enter your home. To make this idea less scary, their entry is recorded by the new Amazon Cloud Cam. But security researchers soon show how a bad guy with Amazon Key access could use Wi-Fi vulnerability to freeze Cloud Cam video stream, which makes the door look like it’s closed when someone opens it. Amazon stresses that this is an unlikely scenario, but is releasing a patch to alert users when their camera has been turned off.
The bug that could be spying on your typing
HP released a fix for a trackpad driver that includes code that can silently follow keyboard input– a capability better known as “keylogging”, and notorious as a technique for spying on a computer user. The code – apparently used for testing purposes and left by mistake – is disabled by default and a would-be voyeur could not enable it without having administrative privileges on your machine. But even though the chance of a problem is minimal, 500 different HP computer models that use the errant driver are impacted.
The bug that went to 11
Some Google Home Mini users report that turn the pint-sized speaker up to maximum volume plant it.
The bug that caused a train crash
At a Singapore train station during rush hour, a commuter train hits another, leaving 29 injured. Investigation finds buggy signaling software left rear-end train confused as to how many cars the train ahead had. And that caused him to continue when he should have stopped.
The bug that blocked you from accessing your own Google Docs
On Halloween, users from Google’s G Suite report that the browser-based productivity package is randomly refusing to let them into the documents they created on the grounds that the content violates Google’s Terms of Service. The incident, which appears to stem from overzealous machine learning technology, is quickly resolved, but inspires debate over the wisdom of relying on a third-party organization to give you access to your own data.
@Google Docs The fiancé lost access to the wedding vows due to a “violation of the terms of service”. The review request link did nothing. 1/2
—Gordon McNaughton (@gmcnaughton) October 31, 2017
The bug that lets anyone nuke your Facebook photos
Security Researcher Pouya Darabi discover that Facebook’s new poll feature can be played delete other photos on social network—including private—via their unique identifiers. Facebook is giving him $10,000 for bringing the vulnerability to its attention.
The bug that ensured pilots were home for the holidays
American airlines divulges that a malfunction in its vacation planning software allowed every pilot who wanted to take Christmas week off to do so—leaving the airline with too few pilots available to cover every trip during an exceptionally busy travel week. Issue threatens to impact 15,000 flights; American is offering time-and-a-half pay to try to field enough pilots for its planes.
The bug that made people Global Persona Non Gratae on Twitter
A handful of people find that they have been locked out from their Twitter accounts with a message stating that they have been “detained in: worldwide”. At least one of them theorizes that she was fired for insulting JK Rowling. But Twitter says the ban was accidental and attributes it to a bug in the code it uses to hide tweets on a country-by-country basis to comply with local laws.
The bug you could beat by pretending it was still December 1st
An iOS 11 bug appears that can crash your phone– but only from 00:15 on December 2, and only in certain situations involving third-party applications using local notifications. Until Apple smashes it, some people resort to undo calendar on their iPhone.