The Year in Tech Industry Apologies

Google, Microsoft, Facebook and the rest get in the sorry line.

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Sorry

It’s been another sorry, sorry year in the technology industry, with big name companies, hot startups and individuals making public mea culpas for the assorted dumb, embarrassing and other regrettable actions. Here’s a rundown of the Year in Apologies to date, and somehow I have a feeling it will need to be updated before Dec. 31. (Also: 2013 and 2012 Sorriest Tech company lists.)

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Snapchat

2013 ended with industry watchers being wowed that Snapchat had reportedly turned down a $3B takeover offer from Facebook. But Snapchat was looking a lot less invincible in January 2014 when it was revealed that the popular photo messaging app had been breached and that millions of user names/phone numbers were exposed on the Web. The company acknowledged its flawed security on Jan. 2, but waited another week before issuing a formal apology about it.

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Google

Google apologized in January after a Berlin, Germany, intersection known today as Theodor-Heuss-Platz was mistakenly listed as Adolf-Hitler-Platz on Google Maps. Edits submitted to the site by users were mistakenly approved by “mapping volunteers or Google moderators,” according to a statement from Google published by Yahoo News. "In this particular case, the change in the street name was mistakenly approved, and we fixed it as soon as we were made aware. We apologize for any offense caused," the statement read.

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Credit: Shutterstock
Facebook

Facebook apologized in the fall to drag queens and the broader Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender community in the wake of controversy over the site’s names policy, clarifying that users don’t have to use their legal name. “I want to apologize to the affected community of drag queens, drag kings, transgender, and extensive community of our friends, neighbors, and members of the LGBT community for the hardship that we’ve put you through in dealing with your Facebook accounts over the past few weeks,” said Chris Cox, chief product officer at the company.

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Credit: Shutterstock
Oracle’s Larry Ellison

A year ago this month, thousands of customers waited at the Oracle OpenWorld conference for Larry Ellison to deliver a keynote speech ... but he never turned up. Ellison had chosen to indulge in his other passion, boat racing, and was attending the America’s Cup finals instead. Oracle had sponsored a team in the competition and Ellison was instrumental in bringing the event to San Francisco.

This year, the company’s executive chairman and CTO began his keynote speech with an apology. (See video) “A year ago, I was a no-show at this conference on Tuesday,” he said, getting some laughs from the crowd. “I’d like to take a moment to apologize to everybody, but we were desperately trying to come back from an 8-to-1 deficit in the America’s Cup.”

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Dropbox

The file sharing site suffered an outage on Jan. 10 that affected some customers for a few others but others off and on throughout the weekend. Speculation swirled that it was a DDoS attack intended to make a statement a year after the death of programmer and Internet activist Aaron Swartz, but Dropbox fessed up that it caused its own problem during a routine server upgrade that went awry: “We know that many of you rely on Dropbox every day — we pride ourselves on reliability, and any downtime is unacceptable. In response, we’re currently building more tools and checks to make sure this doesn’t happen again… We’re sorry for the trouble this caused, and we thank you for your patience and support.”

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Pop-up ad guy

MIT Media Lab’s Ethan Zuckerman wrote an essay for The Atlantic in August in which he apologized for ruining the Web by coming up with the idea for the pop-up ad while with an early Internet company called Tripod. “I wrote the code to launch the window and run an ad in it. I’m sorry. Our intentions were good.”

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Yahoo

Yahoo ended 2013 with a five-day-long email outage that affected some 1 million users and that forced CEO Marissa Mayer to apologize. The company followed that up with an unsportsmanlike tweet about Gmail going down in January, and then shortly after that apologized to its customers for email troubles stemming from what it deemed a coordinated attack (“We regret this has happened and want to assure our users that we take the security of their data very seriously.”). For good measure, the Yahoo mail network went down again in February, prompting another apology.

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Credit: Wikimedia
U2 singer Bono

Millions of Apple customers, following the company’s iPhone 6/6 Plus announcements, were treated to free copies of U2’s new Songs of Innocence album. The problem is, many didn’t want it, forcing Apple to issue a tool for extracting the songs from iTunes accounts. All of which led to Bono apologizing for what he termed a “drop of megalomania, a touch of generosity and a dash of self-promotion.”

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Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella

Even rabble-rousing Steve Ballmer didn’t get into this sort of trouble at Microsoft. The newish Microsoft CEO Nadella stuck his foot in his mouth by saying that women are best off not asking for raises. He followed with a weak attempt to undo his words, but then officially did apologize, as documented in this email published by the Seattle Times: “One of the answers I gave at (a conference last week) was generic advice that was just plain wrong. I apologize. For context, I had received this advice from my mentors and followed it in my own career. I do believe that at Microsoft in general good work is rewarded, and I have seen it many times here. But my advice underestimated exclusion and bias — conscious and unconscious — that can hold people back. Any advice that advocates passivity in the face of bias is wrong. Leaders need to act and shape the culture to root out biases and create an environment where everyone can effectively advocate for themselves.”

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Credit: Shutterstock
Target

Target’s CEO apologized in December for the massive credit card data breach that affected as many as 110 million customers. The CFO apologized in February before the U.S. Senate, stating: ““I want to say how deeply sorry we are for the impact this incident has had on our guests—your constituents. We will work with you, the business community and other thought leaders to find effective solutions to this ongoing and pervasive challenge...We will learn from this incident and, as a result, we hope to make Target, and our industry, more secure for customers in the future."That was followed, dramatically, by the resignation of the company’s CIO in March.

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Credit: Shutterstock
Samsung Electronics

The semiconductor and phone maker in May offered its "sincerest apology" for the sickness and deaths of some of its workers, vowing to compensate those affected and their families. "Some of Samsung's former employees have passed away after contracting leukemia or are coping with difficult-to-treat diseases after having worked at our manufacturing facility," the company said in an emailed statement. Samsung's apology came in response to a proposal by families and the Supporters for the Health And Rights of People in the Semiconductor Industry (SHARPS) group. So far there have been 26 victims of blood cancers (leukemia and lymphoma) reported to SHARPS, who worked in Samsung's Gi-Heung and On-Yang semiconductor plants in Korea. Ten have died, the group said on it site in May. Chemicals as well as cleanrooms that protect wafers more than workers are among the factors cited in causing sickness.

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Credit: Shutterstock
The Home Depot

The Home Depot started off its Sept. 21 letter to customers with “As you may have heard, on September 8, 2014, we confirmed that our payment systems have been breached, which could potentially impact customers using payment cards at our U.S. and Canadian stores… We apologize for the frustration and anxiety this may cause you and we thank you for your patience during this time.” Yes, we’re guessing most of those customers had heard of this historically large security breach.

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Facebook

While everyone likes to have some summer downtime, that doesn’t really work if you’re a social network giant like Facebook that millions of people (and by people we’re including advertising on the site) count on. But Facebook’s network was up and down all summer, with big outages in May, June, August and September. The outages were caused by various issues, with September’s the result of “an error while making an infrastructure configuration change…” Faceback faced up to the problem: “We apologize for the inconvenience and will thoroughly investigate this issue so we can learn from it and ensure that Facebook is there when people need it.”

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Microsoft

Microsoft has taken its share of slams in the past for unsatisfactory operating system software and obligatory cloud outages, but this past summer the company earned praise from customers for what they described as a “refreshingly direct” explanation of why the cloud-based Visual Studio Online offering went offline in some regions during mid-August. Corporate VP Brian Harry actually acknowledged sloppiness on Microsoft’s part.

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Google & Verizon

Computerworld reported in June that Google was giving Chromebook customers a $150 credit after acknowledging that data plans for the LTE Chromebook Pixel were being cut off prematurely. Verizon had turned off the 100MB per month fire hose halfway through the two-year contract, leaving Google to do the right thing even though “the issue is outside of our control.” Verizon apologized for the problem and said it was looking to solve the problem for customers’ whose service was cut off early.

The IDG News Service and NW Staff also contributed to this article.