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Yahoo Is 20: The 10 Worst Tech Products of the Last 20 Years

Dan Tynan
Yahoo Tech

There are bad products, and then there are really bad products — the kind that may physically harm you, destroy your data, make everyone else hate you, give you hives, or endanger your children.

In the 20 years since Yahoo formed we’ve seen our share of bad products, but none worse than the following 10:

1. Exploding Sony batteries (2006)

(Gino/Flickr)

You know you’re having a bad day when your laptop spontaneously combusts. But that’s what happened to some owners of laptops made by Apple, Dell, HP, Toshiba, and others, thanks to faulty lithium-ion batteries built by Sony. Nearly 10 million batteries were recalled in 2006, costing Sony nearly half a billion dollars. Two years later Sony recalled another 100,000 batteries.

2. Digital Convergence CueCat (1999)

(Wikimedia Commons)

The idea: Use this feline-shaped scanner to read a barcode on a package or magazine ad to launch the product’s website. Along the way, the CueCat also collected names, email addresses, and other personal information from customers. Besides being a brain-dead idea, CueCat was also insecure; a breach of Digital Convergence’s website in 2000 exposed the personal details of 140,000 CueCat customers. By 2002, CueCat had shuffled off to the great digital litter box in the sky, but it continues to live in infamy on lists such as this one.

3. Windows ME (2000)

(YouTube)

The universally reviled Windows Millennium Edition (commonly referred to as the Mistake Edition) is probably the worst version of Windows ever created — and that’s saying a lot. Buggy, slow, and incompatible with older DOS programs, ME was on the market barely more than a year before being replaced by Windows XP. Which, to be fair to Microsoft, was so successful it’s still in use today. Only Windows Vista (2006) and Windows 8 (2008) (2012) come close to matching Windows ME for sheer user revulsion.

4. Sony-BMG CD rootkits (2005)

(Amazon)

Here’s the wrong way to keep people from illegally sharing music. To limit the number of copies customers could make of songs from music CDs,Sony-BMG secretly installed a “rootkit” on PCs when usersstuck a compact disc into the machine’s CD tray. The rootkit made thecopy protection software invisible to antivirus software;unfortunately, it also made the PCs vulnerable to malware infections.After this was discovered, Sony-BMG was forced to recall the CDs and pay millions of dollars in damages. The rootkit subterfuge remains one of the most boneheaded moves by any tech company in history.

5. Iomega Zip Drives (1998)

(Wikimedia Commons)

Long before USB thumb drives appeared, the best way to move large amounts of data from one PC to another was via a 100MB Iomega Zip disk. Unfortunately, it was also the worst way — thanks to the infamous “click of death,” which occurred when the Zip drive heads became misaligned and clipped the edge of the storage media. Once that happened, your data was kaput. Iomega claimed that less than 1 percent of users were affected and settled a click-of-death class-action suit in 2001, but the company never really recovered.

6. Motorola Rokr E1 (2005)

(Kim Culish/Corbis)

The Moto Rokr E1 was the first phone to come with iTunes software installed, so iPod fans could listen to their favorite tunes. Unfortunately the Rokr hit nothing but sour notes. Music libraries were limited to 100 songs, song transfers were slow, and at $249 the phone was pretty pricey for that era. Apple fans would have to wait another two years to see the consummation of the marriage of smartphone and iPod: the iPhone.

7. Fitbit Force (2013)

(Alyssa Bereznak/Yahoo Tech)

If scratching counts as exercise, then this wrist-worn fitness tracker gave its customers a real workout. The $130 Force caused skin irritation in a small percentage of users — less than 2 percent, according to the company — but enough to force a recall of the Force last February. Fitbit released a new fitness tracker, called the Charge, last fall. After a week or two of wearing it, customers (including Yahoo Tech’s own Alyssa Bereznak) also began complaining about rashes. Fitbit’s advice? Don’t wear it so much.

8. Amazon Fire phone (2014)

(TechStage/Flickr)

Amazon’s attempt to extend its Fire brand from tablets and TV set tops to phones went up in flames almost as soon as it began. The Fire phone’s unique features — like gesture recognition and face tracking — failed to ignite any excitement. The launch fizzled so badly the company was selling the $200 base handset for less than a buck a few months later. Talk about getting burned.

9. MySpace (2003 – 2008)

(TechCrunch)

At one time MySpace was the biggest social network on the planet, dwarfing all competitors. A few years later it was dead, as users abandoned it for Facebook. MySpace was a victim of its own white-trash aesthetic and lax security policies, which allowed anyone of any age to create an account, making it a haven for creeps and online predators. Purchased by News Corp in 2005 at the height of its popularity for $580 million, it sold six years later for $35 million to a group headed by Justin Timberlake, who resurrected it as a site for promoting musical artists.

10. Google Glass (2013)

(Wikimedia Commons)

Any product that causes strangers to hate you simply for wearing it can’t be good. Google’s $1,500 augmented reality eyewear was fraught with problems from the start, most of them social. Correctly or not, Glass wearers became synonymous with overprivileged Silicon Valley “glassholes” who had too much money and no sense of personal boundaries. Google quietly discontinued its Glass Explorer program in January, though rumors swirl that the device may return in a different form.

Send Happy 20th Birthday Yahoo wishes to Dan Tynan here: ModFamily1@yahoo.com.