The e-commerce space has a new heavyweight challenger, while the world’s biggest Internet company is starting to feel the heat in Europe – these are just a couple of the big stories to emerge in 2014.
BusinessTech takes a look at the 5 biggest topics that were hot on everyone’s lips across the globe this year.
Alibaba takes on the west
Asian e-commerce giant made waves this year when it listed on the New York Stock Exchange. Not only would the group be giving US heavyweights a run for their money on their home turf – it was also pegged as the largest initial public offering in the world.
Leading up to its listing, demand for the group’s stock saw it raise over $21.8 billion, which resulted in the sale of 48 million more shares in the company. In the end, the IPO settled at $24.7 billion – far higher than the previous record held by the Agricultural Bank of China, which raised $22.1 billion in its 2010 listing.
The group entered the market at $68 a share, jumped to $93.90 within 24 hours, and peaked at $119.15 in November. Nearing the close of the year, Alibaba’s stock was around $107.50 per share, almost 60% higher than its listing price.
The appeal? Investors are drawn by the group’s strong mobile business, industry-leading growth, and absolute dominance in markets such as China.
Google under fire
Google now lets users in Europe apply to be forgotten.
This followed a ruling by the Luxembourg-based European Union Court of Justice (ECJ) in May 2014 that said that certain results about people turning up on the Internet giant’s search page, infringed on their privacy.
What followed was a bit of mess, as Google was subsequently bombarded with tens of thousands of European requests for damaging or outdated information pertaining to individuals and companies be removed from the search engine’s results.
Experts were divided on whether the ruling opened the door for baseless deletion requests which will have to be granted, potentially encroaching on free speech, or whether the ruling was nuanced enough to allow wiggle room while respecting privacy.
To make Google’s Euro-zone matters worse, the European Parliament has also called for the separation of search engines from other commercial services – which would put significant pressure on Google’s businesses on the continent.
Facebook gets chatty
Facebook kicked off the year with some massive news: it would be buying popular chat app, WhatsApp for $19 billion (which ballooned to $22 billion by the time the deal had approved).
A lot of users and analysts questioned the rationale behind the move – considering it was a product in direct competition with Facebook’s own Messenger app – but even more-so the hefty price tag that came with it.
WhatsApp reportedly has over 600 million monthly users, and is one of the most popular chatting apps in the world, thanks to its cross-platform use and voice, video and image sharing capabilities.
Users in particular were iffy about the deal, given lingering converns over Facebook’s privacy policies, and the fear of their messages and phone numbers now being in the hands of the world’s largest personal data hoarder.
However, WhatsApp founder Jan Koum was likely very happy, having received nearly $2 billion in Facebook stock through the deal.
Celebrity nude leak scandal
Apple was not in the good books of many female celebrities this year when a large number of nude images spilled onto the internet as a result of ‘hackers’ gaining access to their iCloud accounts.
While Apple’s systems were not breached, the tech giant was still criticised for having accounts that could be appropriated through “brute-force” means.
Many big names fell victim to the leak, including Oscar-winner Jennifer Lawrence, who called the act of leaking, viewing and spreading the private photos of her a “sex crime”.
Some of the stars said the photos were fakes, but Lawrence acknowledged the revealing pictures of her are real in a statement branding their theft as a “flagrant violation of privacy.”
Apple poked a bit of fun at itself over the breach during its iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus reveal – though it is unlikely that any of the victims of the theft and subsequent leak were amused by the ordeal.
2014 was a mixed bag for ride-sharing service Uber. The company has managed to win over investors with its super effective on-demand taxi services, leading to a recent valuation of over $40 billion.
But in the eyes of the public, press and competitors, the group faces claims of shady business practices, aggressive and uncompetitive moves to push itself ahead is leaving the year with a general shadow hanging over it.
People who use Uber, love it. But that didn’t stop governments on both a national and more localised scale from blocking the company from operating in major cities in countries such as Germany, Spain, India and in the USA.
The company faces claims of unscrupulous business practices, and has had to pay many fines for not complying with regulations.
Competitors also revealed that Uber employees were intentionally sabotaging competing services, keeping them clogged up with fake pick-up calls, and trying to “poach” their drivers.
None of this stopped Uber from finding billions of dollars in funding during the course of the year, rocketing the group to a valuation around $40 billion.