Tech’s five biggest turkeys of 2015

This year’s flock of turkeys underpaid women and African-Americans, exposed users to fraud and embarrassment, and carelessly loaded their products with malware

turkey balloon float macys thanksgiving day parade

It's time to preheat the oven and get the turkeys ready for basting -- tech turkeys, that is. As always, the year was rife with embarrassing gaffes, arrogant behavior, and wretched execution of bad ideas.

This year's cringe-worthy sagas included the unwitting outing of adulterers by Ashley Madison, the outrageous displacement of IT workers by the Walt Disney Co., and clueless, tone-deaf behavior by Yahoo's soon-to-be-toast CEO Marissa Mayer.

There are so many more candidates for 2015's tech turkeys, but these five deserve to be at the center of the table for all to see. So tuck in your bibs, pour a glass of vino, and enjoy the feast as we "honor" the top five tech turkeys of 2015.

1. Disney's Robert Iger, avid outsourcer

Tech's biggest turkey this year is a man you may not think of us as a tech CEO. But Robert Allen Iger, the head honcho at the Walt Disney Co., employs thousands of IT workers in the not-so-happy Magic Kingdom's theme parks and hotels.

With a total compensation of $46.5 million in 2014, Iger is one of the highest-paid chief executives in the United States. But he's not one to pay others so handsomely. In fact, he is the poster boy for abuse of the H-1B visa program, which is supposed to be used to fill highly skilled jobs with foreign guest workers when an employer can't find a qualified U.S. resident.

Iger fired 250 IT workers early this year and replaced them with -- you guessed it -- lower-paid holders of H-1B visas. Adding insult to the considerable injury of being fired, Disney insisted that workers who wanted to get their full severance package had to train their replacements.

2. Yahoo's Marissa Mayer, tone-deaf and ineffective

You're running a struggling company that's been in the turnaround mode for years but simply can't find its footing. You're bleeding top executives, beginning to lay off workers, and facing mounting pressure from Wall Street. What should a savvy CEO do? If you're Yahoo top banana Marissa Mayer, you'll spend $70,000 on a "Wizard of Oz" theme party for the company's remaining senior execs. 

In financial terms, the expenditure was insignificant. But Mayer has a history of arrogant, tone-deaf gestures that raise (or is it lower?) her to the level of a tech turkey. Soon after moving from Google to Yahoo, she decided that Yahoo employees were goofing off when they worked at home -- so she killed the policy. Not long after, she became pregnant and built a nursery next to her corner office, presumably so she wouldn't have a reason to work at home either.

Obnoxious as she is, Mayer's nasty foibles would be a mere footnote if she could right her foundering ship, but the chances seem slim. In the most recent quarter, Yahoo's net revenue declined 8 percent, and search revenue -- a priority of Mayer's -- declined 13 percent. There are already rumors that Yahoo's micromanaging Queen of Mean is on the way out.

Oh well, maybe she'll run for president.

3. Lenovo's Yang Yuanqing, purveyor of PC malware

With the PC industry struggling to avoid irrelevance, you'd think that PC makers would go out of their way to keep customers happy -- not if you're Lenovo CEO Yuanqing Yang. Lenovo, which purchased IBM's PC business years ago, loads its PCs with bloatware, is careless about security, and judging by my own experience, offers terrible customer service.

Users started complaining last year about a program called Superfish that Lenovo installed on new PCs, but the complaints grew much louder this year when it was discovered that Superfish opens a gaping security hole.

Loading bloatware on a PC is a tactic used by PC makers to squeeze out a tiny bit of extra margin. Annoying users to make a bit more cash is bad enough, but Lenovo's failure to notice that the third-party software was dangerous elevates Yang, whose personal fortune is reportedly more than $600 million, to well-fed turkey status.

4. The boys of Silicon Valley, for their boys' club

The bros of Silicon Valley never fail to tell us about how their disruptive technologies will make the world a better place. Maybe it will, but how about starting by making your workplaces more equitable, boys?

The dearth of female and black engineers and venture capital partners (hello, Kleiner Perkins) is an old story, but it took a survey by IEEE-USA to show that when members of those groups get hired, they get paid less -- much less -- than their white, male colleagues.

A recent survey of more than 10,000 of the professional group's members found that women IT workers earn, on average, $13,365 a year less than men, while blacks earned $15,482 less than whites. Really boys, isn't it time to share the wealth your black and female colleagues helped create? After all, you claim you run a meritocracy. Until then, gobble on, you turkeys.

5. Avid Life Media's Noel Biderman, sloppy scammer

Adultery? Who am I to judge? But Ashley Madison, the hookup site for adulterers, scored a new low this year on several counts. The site's porous security allowed some devilish hacker to break in and publish the names of 32 million or so customers, along with email addresses, sexual preferences, and other sensitive information.

The company behind the website, Avid Life Media, knew it couldn't protect user data, so it covered its, um, butt in the in the fine print: "We cannot ensure the security or privacy of information you provide through the Internet." However, it advertised its service as “100 percent discreet.”

What's more, it turns out that Ashley Madison's tacky service wasn't even legit. Many of the profiles of horny women were fake, designed to lure adultery-minded men into spending their money on so-called fembots, not the real women promised.

Although Avid CEO Noel Biderman resigned after the data dump, the damage was done. What a turkey.

Enjoy your turkey, colleagues, friends, and readers -- and have a great holiday! (And a tip of my baseball cap to InfoWorld's Fahmida Rashid for her help on this post.)

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

How to choose a low-code development platform