Picking the bozos of the year is always bittersweet. It's altogether satisfying to call out the big cigars of the tech world -- and sometimes their allies in government -- who deserve to be ridiculed and brought to account. On the other hand, these bozos have caused damage to their companies, their employees, and their customers, which is no joking matter. Here are 2012's top five.
1. Hewlett-Packard's board of directors
There's no better example of the destructive bozo than the board of directors of Hewlett-Packard. This brain-dead bunch is the latest in a long line of terrible executives who have taken an iconic, innovative Silicon Valley giant and turned it into a shrunken, stumbling laughingstock. The current board made what has to be one of the worst tech acquisitions since one of its predecessors broke the bank buying and gutting Compaq Computer and screwing up the EDS deal.
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The current board spent more than $10 billion buying Autonomy, a wildly overvalued big data analytics outfit from the United Kingdom. The board alleges that Autonomy's former CEO, Mike Lynch, cooked the books and tricked HP into buying a pig in a poke. Even if Lynch is telling the truth (as may well be the case), there's little doubt that the buy was a turkey and the board completely blew its obligation to carry out due diligence. As a result, HP suffered a huge loss that will cost shareholders billions of dollars and thousands of employees their jobs. With the exception of CEO Meg Whitman, who deserves more time to fix the rest of the mess she inherited, every one of those bozos should be replaced.
2. Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg
What list of bozos would be complete without the inclusion of Mark "Boy Billionaire" Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook? You'd think that a company with a user base approaching 1 billion would be easy to love. Instead, Facebook's 2012 was filled with assaults on the privacy of its users and feckless greed that turned what should have been a triumphant march to Wall Street into a pathetically bungled IPO.
Case in point: this week's Instagram debacle. Facebook released yet another update to its terms of service, and this one contained a beaut: Pictures you post may be used as part of an advertisement, whether you like it or not. There's no exemption for teenagers and no way to opt out unless you delete your Instagram account. That nonsense lasted about two days. There was such a storm of protest in the Twittersphere and the tech press that the company is furiously backpedaling. Kevin Systrom, a co-founder of Instagram, wrote a blog post saying the company would change the new terms of service to make clearer what would happen to users' pictures. Even that has some ambiguity in it, so we'll see what happens.
But this incident is vintage Facebook. Do something outrageous to user privacy, get pummeled by angry users, apologize, and do it again. Anyone who believes Facebook isn't a business that needs to sell user data and content has clearly not been paying attention.