2016: The year in tech companies' public apologies

Tech vendors lay it on thick, are "impossibly sorry" for breaking your hearts and trust in 2016

Microsoft couldn’t get out of its culturally-clueless way in 2016. Samsung apologized over and over for its flaming Note7 fiasco. HP, T-Mobile, Facebook and pretty much every other big name in tech was forced to issue a public apology or more during the year, as public relations pros earned their money (or not) to salvage their employer or client’s reputation – for the time being. You won’t be sorry for taking a spin through this collection of corporate apologies from the tech world.

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MORE: Network World editors' dramatic readings of tech vendors' public apologies

Samsung: Sorry for Galaxy Note 7 smartphone battery woes

Samsung’s phenomenal phablet flame-out with its Galaxy Note 7 (documented in our timeline here), which overheated and even burst into flames due to a lithium ion battery problem, easily qualifies as the year’s biggest tech screw-up. Apple, late-night comics and others rejoiced, while Android fans went through the painful process of returning their recalled phones.

Samsung issued an apology in November on its website and took out full-page advertisements in major U.S. newspapers reading: "An important tenet of our mission is to offer best-in-class safety and quality. Recently, we fell short on this promise. For this we are truly sorry. A careful Note 7 investigation is underway and the findings will be shared when the process is complete...We will re-examine every aspect of the device, including all hardware, software, manufacturing and the overall battery structure. We will move as quickly as possible, but will take the time needed to get the right answers."

Evernote: “We messed up, in no uncertain terms” on proposed privacy policy

Evernote in December informed customers of its organization app that it was going to start allowing employees to read some of their notes in the interest of training its machine learning algorithms, but that proved not to be a smart move. Customer outrage led to CEO Chris O’Neill having the company reverse course, and only allow note reading on an opt-in basis. “We announced a change to our privacy policy that made it seem like we didn’t care about the privacy of our customers or their notes. This was not our intent, and our customers let us know that we messed up, in no uncertain terms. We heard them, and we’re taking immediate action to fix it,” said O’Neill. “We are excited about what we can offer Evernote customers thanks to the use of machine learning, but we must ask for permission, not assume we have it. We’re sorry we disappointed our customers, and we are reviewing our entire privacy policy because of this.”

Apple: Error 53 on iPhones

It’s not easy squeezing out a mea culpa from Apple (like with the Multi-Touch issues reported with the iPhone 6 Plus, the company was quick to note this could be caused by customers dropping their phones “multiple times on a hard surface”). But the company did acknowledge in February that customers seeing Error 53 on their phones was indeed a flaw: “Some customers’ devices are showing ‘Connect to iTunes’ after attempting an iOS update or a restore from iTunes on a Mac or PC. This reports as an Error 53 in iTunes and appears when a device fails a security test. This test was designed to check whether Touch ID works properly before the device leaves the factory.

Today, Apple released a software update that allows customers who have encountered this error message to successfully restore their device using iTunes on a Mac or PC.

We apologize for any inconvenience, this was designed to be a factory test and was not intended to affect customers. Customers who paid for an out-of-warranty replacement of their device based on this issue should contact AppleCare about a reimbursement.”

Facebook's killer glitch

Talk about fake news. A Facebook glitch in November converted about 2 million living people’s pages into memorialized ones “remembering” the individuals. Even Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s profile fell victim to the problem. Facebook apologized: “For a brief period today, a message meant for memorialized pages was mistakenly posted to other accounts. This was a terrible error that we have now fixed. We are very sorry that this happened and we worked as quickly as possible to fix it.

T-Mobile: Binge On crow

T-Mobile CEO John Legere () issued an open letter to consumers in January about its Binge On feature for enabling streaming video through selected providers such as YouTube, HBO etc., without it counting against your high-speed data allotment. In his letter aimed at clarifying what he termed a convoluted discussion, Legere specifically apologizes to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which deems part of Binge on as a net neutrality-threatening and indiscriminate throttler of video, and its supporters. Legere wrote in part: “Look, by now you know that I am a vocal, animated and sometimes foul mouthed CEO. I don’t filter myself and you know that no one at T-Mobile filters me either (no, they don’t even try). That means I will sometimes incite a bit of a ‘social media riot’, but I’m not going to apologize for that. I will however apologize for offending EFF and its supporters. Just because we don’t completely agree on all aspects of Binge On doesn’t mean I don’t see how they fight for consumers. We both agree that it is important to protect consumers' rights and to give consumers value. We have that in common, so more power to them. As I mentioned last week, we look forward to sitting down and talking with the EFF and that is a step we will definitely take. Unfortunately, my color commentary from last week is now drowning out the real value of Binge On – so hopefully this letter will help make that clear again.”

HP contorts itself into issuing apology over printer update

HP got called out by the EFF in September for disguising a way to block users of Officejet Pro printers from using unapproved ink cartridges as a security update. That prompted HP to sort of apologize via a blog post titled “Dedicated to the best printing experience,” in which it assured us of its “transparency in all of our communications.” HP emphasized its controversy firmware update was made with the utmost attention to protecting customers from counterfeiters, etc. “We should have done a better job of communicating about the authentication procedure to customers, and we apologize. Although only a small number of customers have been affected, one customer who has a poor experience is one too many.

It is important to understand that all third-party cartridges with original HP security chips continue to function properly. As a remedy for the small number of affected customers, we have issued an optional firmware update that removes the dynamic security feature.”

Microsoft: Culture cringe

Microsoft has had its issues in 2016 trying to be cool, and missing badly. There was the company recruiter in July who tried to woo millennials via millennial speak to an Internapalooza event, including “Bae Intern! <3”, “hella noms, lots of dranks, the best beats” and Hell yes to getting lit on a Monday night” (The company issued a statement to Gizmodo: “"The email was poorly worded and not in keeping with our values as a company. We are looking into how this occurred and will take appropriate steps to address it."

In March, the company’s AI-powered Tay chatbot, within a day of being launched, was trained by internet trolls to spew racist and misogynist language before being shuttered (“We are deeply sorry for the unintended offensive and hurtful tweets from Tay, which do not represent who we are or what we stand for, nor how we designed Tay.”). Oh, and then there were the go-go dancers at an Xbox developers’ party in San Fran.

Huawei: photography trick

Huawei over the summer issued an apology after promoting the photo-taking capabilities of its P9 smartphone…with a photo taken on a professional camera. After boasting on Google+ that the phone “makes taking photos in low-light conditions like this a pleasure,” the company was outed by metadata that showed the Canon camera equipment really used to take the shot. In a statement issued to the Android Police blog, Huawei wrote: “We recognize though that we should have been clearer with the captions for this image. It was never our intention to mislead. We apologize for this and we have removed the image.”

Salesforce: CEO reaches out during outage

Salesforce had plenty of company on the service/network outage front during 2016 (AWS, Comcast, Google, Level 3, Slack…), but in an unusual twist, CEO Marc Benioff in May took to Twitter to apologize to customers and offer his help. An example: “@john011001100 I am sorry for our service disruption on NA14 please email me ceo@salesforce.com so we can call you @parkerharris” Salesforce said the over 12 hours disruption resulted from a database failure in the NA14 instance in North America. Business Insider reported that the NA14 outage became a meme, fueled by Benioff’s tweets.

Google: April Fools’ Mic Drop joke

Google generally has a much better batting average on April Fools’ jokes than the many other brands that feel obligated to torture our funny bones online every April 1. But Google pulled the plug on its Mic Drop trick, which was a gmail option that allowed you to reply to a conversation and immediately archive it, so that it would disappear from your inbox. It was too subtle for most, as colleague Jon Gold wrote. Google wrote to users: “Well, it looks like we pranked ourselves this year. 😟 Due to a bug, the Mic Drop feature inadvertently caused more headaches than laughs. We’re truly sorry. The feature has been turned off. If you are still seeing it, please reload your Gmail page.”

IBM: “Unreservedly” sorry about botched census website

IBM didn’t fully take the blame for Australia’s first nationwide online census getting knocked offline for almost two days due to denial-of-service attacks – it pointed fingers at a couple of subcontractors – but an IBM executive did tell the government that ultimately the buck stopped at Big Blue. An IBM executive said he apologized “unreservedly” for the outcome, which was to result in a settlement.

Snapchat: “Impossibly sorry” over identity leak

Snapchat parent Snap apologized in February after an employee fell for a phishing scam that wound up revealing payroll info about some of the company’s employees. Team Snapchat blogged: “The good news is that our servers were not breached, and our users’ data was totally unaffected by this. The bad news is that a number of our employees have now had their identity compromised. And for that, we’re just impossibly sorry.”

GitHub: “We’re sorry”

The code-sharing site in February published a – what else – open letter to its community apologizing for ignoring developers’ suggestions for improving the repository hosting service. “We hear you and we’re sorry. We’ve been slow to respond to your letter and slow to respond to your frustrations. We’re working hard to fix this. Over the next few weeks we’ll begin releasing a number of improvements to issues, many of which will address the specific concerns raised in the letter. But we’re not going to stop there. We’ll continue to focus on Issues moving forward by adding new features, responding to feedback, and iterating on the core experience. We’ve also got a few surprises in store.”

Frontier: Problems from transition of Verizon properties

Frontier in April apologized for the outages and service problems customers were suffering in California, Florida and Texas as the carrier transitioned customers from Verizon’s DSL, FiOS and landline network to its own. DSL Reports published a statement from Frontier that read: “Given the size and scope of this transaction, some of our customers experienced service disruptions. This is not the result we intended, and we apologize to our customers experiencing any problems."

Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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