Predictions for 2013

By Edward Felten

Posted on January 8, 2013

After a year’s hiatus, our annual predictions post is back! As usual, these predictions reflect the results of brainstorming among many affiliates and friends of the blog, so you should not attribute any prediction to any individual (including me–I’m just the scribe). Without further ado, the tech policy predictions for 2013:


1. DRM technology will still fail to prevent widespread infringement. In a related development, pigs will still fail to fly.

2. The FAA won’t reverse the ban on using electronic devices during takeoff and landing, despite increasing political pressure to do so and a continued lack of evidence that devices are dangerous.

3. A self-driving vehicle will be involved in a fatal accident. The victim’s family will sue everybody in sight, triggering a backlash against self-driving cars but (on the bright side) leading to more careful consideration of how the law should apply.

4. A secret autonomous weapon system will be involved in a high-profile botched/mistaken military strike that will increase debate about autonomous weapons and the role of humans in the loop. Further investigation will show that the critical error was made by a human in the loop.

5. Civilian versions of military UAVs, like the Predator, will gain broader approval for use in domestic airspace and will be rapidly adopted by the obvious government agencies (e.g. police departments, border patrol, USGS) as well as all manner of unexpected non-government applications (e.g. traffic reporting, aerial banner advertising). “Deconflicting” airspace will become a hot topic for discussion.

6. A drone will be used in creepy fashion by a (civilian) stalker.

7. An unexpected solar event, debris, or collision will take out one or more GPS satellites or other important space infrastructure, causing real problems to computer and network-dependent societies.

8. While we’ll continue to see a smattering of settlements in the smartphone patent wars, there will be no broad industry-wide “solution” or peace, nor will there be significant legislative progress toward changing the patent system to reduce the impact of software patent thickets. Instead, expect more defensive transactions like the recent $500 million acquisition of Kodak’s patent portfolio.

9. As the Supreme Court considers pay-for-delay patent licenses in the drug industry, more attention will be paid to potentially anticompetitive patent licensing practices in the technology industries.

10. At least one company that offers web tracking services, e.g., third parties that can tell a web site something about who you are when you visit, will get in sufficient hot water over its behavior that Congress will hold hearings on the topic and drag the company’s executives in for a verbal drubbing. Despite this, the US will not pass signficant new legislation to govern this sort of behavior.

11. There will be at least one new Android or IOS app that blatantly violates user expectations of privacy in comparable magnitude to Path (who silently uploaded its users’ full contact lists), leading to Google and/or Apple taking corrective actions in their app stores. Again, there will be legislative attention but no legislation passed.

12. Wireless carriers will get into trouble because of their failure to offer system software updates for still-under-contract Android phones. Users will be burned by security or reliability problems that are fixed in newer Android versions that the carrier fails to provide.

13. A minor scandal will erupt over a computer science research project that causes avoidable harm to users, after the researchers omitted the standard IRB human subjects review.

14. Some prominent web sites will start supporting Do Not Track and at least one major country will attach requirements for how sites must respect DNT. Despite much discussion, there will be no US mandate for DNT and many web sites will flagrantly ignore it.

15. Ad blocking, and privacy-motivated content blocking generally, will gain more usage and legitimacy as users increasingly see blocking as the most effective way to navigate the confusing thicket of web privacy concerns.

16. Overseas and military voters will continue to cast votes through flagrantly insecure means (e.g. email without paper backup) and there will be a push to expand these programs to domestic voters despite their obvious flaws.

17. A popular competitive TV show, where viewers vote for their favorites through text messages and/or the web, will be rumored to have had its voting process “hacked” (or perhaps someone will take post-facto credit for such a hack). The show’s management will try to cover up or deny this, claiming that the system is totally secure when it obviously is not, leading to allegations that the show’s producers are manipulating the vote.

18. One of the hot topics in cybersecurity this year will be the legitimacy of counter-offensive cyber-operations (i.e. hacking back at whoever is hacking you). Somebody will get in trouble and/or get sued for a botched counter-offensive operation.

19. There will be further newsworthy incidents of data exfiltration from large industrial, government, or military enterprises. Congress will hold hearings and there will be some consternation about how government should or shouldn’t protect non-government actors from such attacks.

20. The battle between countries that censor or control their citizen’s access to the full Internet (e.g., China with its Great Firewall) and technologies that try to work around the blockages (e.g., Tor) will continue without signficant advances on either side, but not without hype for some new “major development.”

21. There will be a dispute over whether a CDN like CloudFlare or cloud hosting service like Amazon EC2 is providing material support for terrorists by, e.g., hosting Hamas.

22. An online-only show will get support for an Emmy nomination, but is ruled ineligible.

23. Massive open online courses (MOOCs) will enroll more students and there will be some consolidation in the market for MOOC platforms. Non-profit platforms will slowly gain market share, as institutions worry about the credential-granting business models that will start to proliferate on the for-profit platforms.

The preceding is re-published on TAP with permission by its author, Professor Ed Felten, Director of the Center for Information Technology Policy at Princeton University. “Predictions for 2013” was originally published January 7, 2013 on Freedom to Tinker.