-- Stop Online Piracy Act
Introduced in October in the U.S. House of Representatives, the Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA, would give U.S. law enforcement the ability to obtain court orders to stop search engines, payment processors and other entities from doing business with websites accused of enabling copyright infringement. The Act would also allow copyright holders to obtain court orders to block allegedly infringing sites under certain conditions. SOPA is wider in scope than the similar Protect IP Act in the U.S. Senate. Critics say the bills, particularly SOPA, give law enforcement sweeping powers to censor legitimate websites, such as YouTube, that may host some infringing content, and could end up being misused by companies as a way to block competitors. The legislative debate will continue well into 2012.
-- Egypt goes offline
Just after midnight Cairo time on Jan. 28, 3, 500 Internet Border Gateway Protocol routes connecting Egypt to the rest of world vanished from sight. It didn't take long to figure out that Egyptian service providers, under pressure from a government besieged by political protest, had cut connectivity to the Internet. Mobile telecommunications were similarly affected. As soon as access returned five days later, Egyptians logged back on to social networks. In the next few months, Libya and Syria also moved to sever the Internet and various African regimes blocked social networks in the face of election tumult. As the Internet becomes an increasingly important organizational tool and information conduit, such attempts to cut connectivity amid political unrest will no doubt continue.
-- Japan devastated by massive earthquake
The March 11 earthquake in Japan, the biggest in its history, took its toll on the country's electronics industry. The earthquake constrained the supply of raw materials and components such as NAND flash memory, microcontrollers and LCD parts. Prices soared after the earthquake and subsequent tsunami, which damaged facilities belonging to Sony, Freescale, Fujitsu, Texas Instruments and other companies. Floods in Thailand in the second half of the year made it a one-two punch for the PC and component markets. After expanding about 30 percent in 2010, global semiconductor revenue will squeeze out barely a 1 percent increase this year, with sales of DRAM, SRAM and NOR Flash memory expected to decline 15 percent or more, according to analysts.
-- The HP Follies: Apotheker's bungled restructuring
Barely a year into his tenure as Hewlett-Packard CEO, Leo Apotheker was ousted in September soon after announcing that the company would seek to spin off its $40 billion PC business, the largest in the world. Apotheker, who had been fired from SAP in February after the ERP maker fumbled its move to cloud technology, had little experience with hardware. Apotheker himself took up the reins at HP after the ouster of Mark Hurd, who resigned following an investigation into claims of sexual harrassment. After initially declaring that HP would go through with Apotheker's plan to sell the PC unit, newly appointed CEO Meg Whitman, the former chief executive at eBay, decided to hang on to it. HP now says PCs are key to long-term relationships with customers. The company faces other challenges. Net earnings for HP in its fourth quarter were $200 million, down from $2.5 billion in the same period last year, and Whitman herself said that Apple would probably overtake HP in the PC market next year, if iPad sales are included.
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