Top 10: the stories that grabbed your attention in 2015

Secret files in Swiss banks, escaping from Google’s reach, a website that tells your age, who owes the most and, of course, who is still the richest. These are the articles on ‘The Irish Times’ website that were the most read in the past year

 

It was the year during which we learned that there were Irish names in HSBC files, that pension entitlement was an issue for Irish women and that our readers take hygiene in food outlets very seriously. But, overall, there was one clear winner when it comes to our most-read stories online.

1 Privacy issues on social media and online in general are an ongoing issue and our Berlin correspondent Derek Scally touched a nerve with his article headlined De-Google your life: it’s worth the hassle if you value your privacy.

In it, Scally pondered how we are willing to hand over our most intimate details to Google in return for a “free” service. Instead of cash though, as Scally cogently said, people pay Google in kind: with their identity, their behaviour, their habits and their preferences.

Google collates and analyses this user data on a global scale, sells it to advertisers and, according to Edward Snowden, more than occasionally gifts it to US and other intelligence services.

Scally then went on to outline how you can de-Google your life in six steps and outlined alternatives to using the online behemoth that are based in Europe and covered by EU privacy laws. The steps include using these alternatives and dumping your smartphone for the Finnish device Jolla.

2 Another article concerning online issues that was widely read was this one by Marie Boran on Facebook and Gmail: what happens to data after your death?

She reported that next of kin had been locked out of their deceased loved ones’ social media accounts due to a glitch in the law. Boran outlined how a mother was forced to sue Facebook in order to get access to her late son’s account.

As Damien McCallig, final year PhD candidate in the School of Law, National University of Ireland, Galway, put it: “Once upon a time we had this shoebox filled with letters and photographs. We’re now creating this situation where a lot of what we do is being committed to digital storage.”

Boran said that you were in breach of Facebooks’s rules of service if you logged into another person’s account, an action that could theoretically be viewed as hacking.

She showed how we were dependent on US law for guidance, as this was where the dominant social media players were based. She passed on the advice that our wills should now include a provision for what should happen to our social media accounts after we die.

3 Stories involving the Food Safety Authority of Ireland and restaurants/ takeaways always do well online and this one – Seven food outlets closed and two others prosecuted – was no exception as it clocked in at number three.

A bread-and-butter (pardon the pun) story by Dan Griffin, it outlined how closure orders were served on seven named premises across the State. Griffin also reported that there were two successful prosecutions carried out by the HSE on outlets in Donegal.

4 At number four is another collaboration with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists following on from the hugely successful Lux Leaks project. In this story Colm Keena detailed how there were Irish names contained in secret files held by the Swiss branch of HSBC. The investigation, dubbed Swiss Leaks, revealed that the bank had held money on behalf of tax dodgers, drug cartels and arms dealers.

Under the headline Irish names in HSBC bank’s secret filesKeena outlined how HSBC files were copied by a former employee, Hervé Falciani, during 2006 and 2007, and were seized during a raid by the French police on his father’s home in 2009. Falciani was charged late last year in Switzerland with industrial espionage and violating bank secrecy.

Keena gave details of the Irish people whose names were in the files and their interactions with the bank and the Revenue Commissioners.

He also reported that figures given to The Irish Times by the Revenue showed that the amount of money Irish citizens had on deposit in Switzerland was much greater than was the case with other secretive locations such as Jersey, Monaco or Luxembourg.

5 Normally articles about pensions are, like the product, solid and struggle to generate enthusiasm. But this one, Six things every woman needs to know about the State pension, was widely read and comes in at number five for 2015. In it, Fiona Reddan told us that, alarmingly, when it comes to retirement women typically have 35 per cent less to live on than men.

Reddan outlined in six clear ways how women can avail of all the benefits due to them, the pitfalls they may not be aware of and whether maternity leave has an effect on entitlements. A comprehensive and concise look at an issue of which half the population needs to be aware.

6 Reddan also claims sixth place with her article Who owes more money - the Irish or the Greeks? In this salutary tale, she outlined that, despite all of Greece’s well-documented woes, Ireland was the second most indebted country in the world on a per capita basis – ie the amount of Government debt per person.

Japan has the dubious honour of topping the list using this metric, with Greece coming in at number 12.

We owe a whopping €53,863 per person, while Greeks owe €38,444 per head. Our nearest neighbours in the UK owe €38,938 per person.

7 Clocking in at number seven is a story by Ciara O’Brien on how Microsoft claimed it could tell your age from a photograph. All you have to do is take one, upload it to Microsoft’s old.net website and, hey presto, it tells you your sex and age.

The software behind this tool was born out of the company’s research into facial recognition technology.

O’Brien tried out a few tests in the office with results ranging “from the more flattering – roughly 10 years younger than the actual age – to downright insulting”.

Users also found that close-up photos yielded different results to photographs taken further away and that facial hair could throw out the result.

However, Microsoft did say that it was still a work in progress and each photo that was analysed came with the disclaimer that it was still improving the feature. Have fun! Can Microsoft’s How-old.net guess your age?

8 At number eight, Justin Comiskey brought us news which our taste buds may welcome but which our waistlines probably won’t. The Five Guysfranchise is coming to Ireland, courtesy of financier Dermot Desmond’s three sons, Brett, Ross and Derry.

Five Guys Burgers and Fries initially plans to open up to five restaurants in Dublin – two in the city centre and three more around the M50 belt – before expanding countrywide into Cork, Limerick and Galway.

The menu at Five Guys, Comiskey told us, was centred on hamburgers offered with American cheese or bacon, kosher-style hot dogs, grilled cheese and vegetable sandwiches.

9 At number nine is World’s largest aircraft lands at Shannon Airport This really was a case of a picture telling a story better than a thousand words.

The Antonov 225, which was built to carry a Soviet Union space shuttle between launch and landing sites, landed for a transit stop at Shannon en route from Bangor International Airport in the US. The plane has a wingpsan wider than the Croke Park pitch.

10 And finally, the story at number 10 was a hardy annual: the richest people in Ireland list. The wealthiest 250 people are worth a combined total of €75.03 billion, according to the report.

At the top of the Irish list are Hilary and Alannah Weston, the Dublin-born mother and daughter from the family which controls Brown Thomas and Penneys in Ireland, and Selfridges and Primark in the UK, as well as a huge Canadian operation. The family is valued at some €15 billion.

At number two in the list is Denis O’Brien who has significant interests in the communications sector through his Digicel business, with an estimated fortune of €5.34 billion. He is also the largest shareholder in Independent News & Media.

New entrants to the Irish section of the list include Sir Daniel and Lady Day-Lewis (€62 million), who have a home in Co Wicklow, and international rugby referee Simon McDowell (€73 million) whose fortune relates to a Co Antrim mineral-processing firm linked to his family.