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Top 10 lessons the Internet taught us in 2014

Ethical hackers say government regulations put information at risk
As many of us sit down to make our New Year’s resolutions, there is no better time to look back at the lesson’s the Internet has taught us this year. Nico De Pasquale Photography/Flickr

TORONTO – 2014 has been a wild year. From massive hacking scandals to social networking fails, the Internet was at the centre of many of the year’s biggest events. And, as many of us sit down to make our New Year’s resolutions, there is no better time to look back at the lessons the Internet has taught us this year.

Facebook isn’t going anywhere

2014 was a year of ups and downs for Facebook.

But, despite multiple reports that the social networking site had lost its key demographic – teens between the ages of 16 and 18 – it held onto its spot as the most dominant social network on the web.

READ MORE: Will Facebook lose users over its emotion manipulation study?

Facebook even withstood multiple controversies – from the Facebook emotion manipulation study, to concerns about the privacy policy for its Messenger app. Although mass amounts of users threatened to quit the service over both incidents, Facebook came out generally untouched.

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In fact, the Messenger app was the most downloaded free app in Google’s Play Store and the App Store in the weeks following the privacy controversy.

Your ‘private’ work emails aren’t private at all

Look no further than the Sony Pictures hacking scandal for proof that those emails you send to your colleagues complaining about your boss could be seen by anyone.

After stealing mass amounts of data from Sony’s internal systems, hackers released the full email inboxes of Sony executives including Amy Pascal, Steven Mosko and Scott Rudin. Some of those “private” emails included exchanges between Rudin and Pascal in which Rudin made jokes about President Barack Obama’s race.

No one is safe from hackers

It seems everyone got a taste of what it’s like to be the victim of a hacker this year – from big companies like Sony Pictures and Home Depot, to local authorities and consumers.

Hundreds of Canadians were also victimized after a hacker used the Heartbleed Bug vulnerability to access the Canada Revenue Agency’s systems and steal over 900 social insurance numbers.

We need to start taking password safety seriously

If all of the aforementioned hacking scandals didn’t make you think twice about using an old password, perhaps all of this year’s security bug stories will.

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From the Heartbleed bug and the Bash security flaw, to the Poodle bug and many other vulnerabilities affecting Internet security, security experts around the world urged web users to use more secure passwords to protect themselves from the fallout.

But still, each time a new security vulnerability was discovered, experts said the average web user has poor judgement when it comes to their choice of passwords.

Social media can do wonders for fundraising…

The ALS ice bucket challenge is one of the best examples of how hashtags and social media can make a huge impact on important causes.

The challenge, which involved participants dumping buckets of ice water over their heads, raised over $16 million for ALS Canada and over $100 million was donated to the American ALS association. That’s four times what the organization raised in 2013, according to reports.

…and social change

Social media was also used as an aid in many important social causes this year.

In March, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan sparked outrage for trying to block citizens’ access to Twitter, YouTube and other social media sites. But citizens thwarted the government’s efforts by using Virtual Private Networks (VPN) services to start a social campaign against censorship.

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Weeks later the Turkish government lifted the ban on Twitter.

Later in May, the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls was tweeted millions of times in hopes to raise awareness about the nearly 300 schoolgirls kidnapped by militant group Boko Haram.

READ MORE: Can social media really help #BringBackOurGirls and end terrorism in Nigeria?

People love free music – but not if it’s forced on them

Apple learned a very important lesson in marketing this year – despite society’s love for pirating free music, don’t force it on people.

The tech giant was subject to weeks of Internet ridicule after teaming up with Irish super-group U2 to give away the band’s new album to every iTunes user.

Less than a week after giving away the album – by way of automatic download – Apple released a tool that allowed users to remove Songs of Innocence from their iTunes library due to the growing chorus of angry users who never wanted the album in the first place.

Don’t bet on digital currency just yet

Bitcoin, the Internet’s most popular digital currency, had a wild ride this year.

At the beginning of the year, one Bitcoin was priced at about US $950. The currency has since dropped to the low US$300 per Bitcoin range. That means if you bought Bitcoin in January, your investment would only be worth a third as much today.

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READ MORE: Should the average Canadian invest in Bitcoin?

Old-school dating is dead

Romance took a bit of hit this year. So-called “hook-up” app Tinder was at the centre of many “dating horror story” articles.

But the app also experienced some of its highest traffic during world events. Tinder saw a 50 per cent usage increase in Brazil during the World Cup, according to a report by Quartz. And seeing as an estimated 600,000 tourists flocked to the country to watch the event, there was bound to be a lot of sex. The app also saw a spike in use during the Sochi Olympics – especially among athletes.

Embrace the selfie… it isn’t going anywhere

Even if you claim to hate them, you’re likely guilty of taking a selfie or two. If the Internet proved anything this year, it’s that everyone’s favourite type of photo is here to stay. You can thank the invention of the “selfie stick,” for this one.