Most memorable tech industry apologies of 2012: From Apple to Google to Microsoft

Here's a run down on the sorry, sorry action

Tech vendors have been as bombastic as ever promoting the magical and amazing things their latest smartphones, cloud computing wares and network gear can do. When things go wrong, they're naturally a little less visible, but plenty of companies have sucked it up and done the right thing this year (perhaps with a little legal prodding here and there) and publicly apologized for minor and major customers inconveniences.

Here's a brief rundown of the sorry, sorry action so far in 2012:

*Apple Maps flap

Apple has a reputation for not apologizing for much of anything (or even deigning to comment on anything slightly controversial). It even twisted a court order in the U.K. in October into a sort of non-apology apology/advertisement and then a snoozy newspaper ad.

But actually, the company has said sorry numerous times in recent years, for everything from long waits for buyers of the first iPhones in 2007 to the notorious antenna-gate problems with the iPhone 4. This time around, CEO Tim Cook issued an apology in the wake of the company's release of disappointing maps technology in iOS 6. The apology read, in part:

"At Apple, we strive to make world-class products that deliver the best experience possible to our customers. With the launch of our new Maps last week, we fell short on this commitment. We are extremely sorry for the frustration this has caused our customers and we are doing everything we can to make Maps better."

One Apple executive who reportedly didn't want to sign off on the apology -- iOS chief Scott Forstall -- has now left the company in a management shake-up. And Forstall was joined in departing by John Browett, Apple's retail chief, whose group's problems with store staffing over the summer resulted in another Apple apology

*Cisco stops pushing cloud on customers

Responding to customer backlash over making Cisco Connect Cloud service a default management system for high-end Linksys routers, Cisco apologized and made it so customers need to opt in to the service if they want it. The default is now a traditional setup for management over the LAN.

Customers balked at Cisco Connect Cloud for numerous reasons, including worries about Cisco snooping on their network use and strict terms of service that restricted access to certain content, possibly including spam and porn, among other things.

Brett Wingo, vice president and general manager of Cisco Home Networking, wrote in July:

"We believe lack of clarity in our own terms of service has contributed to many of our customers' concerns, and we apologize for the confusion and inconvenience this has caused. Cisco Connect Cloud and Cisco Linksys routers do not monitor or store information about how our customers are using the Internet and we do not arbitrarily disconnect customers from the Internet. The Cisco Connect Cloud Service has never monitored customers' Internet usage, nor was it designed to do so. Cisco will not push software updates to customers' Linksys routers when the auto-update setting is turned off."

*T-Mobile: Sorry about the sneaky ads

T-Mobile USA begged for forgiveness in April after slipping advertisements onto Android smartphone customers' update notification screens promoting the carrier's free VIP Zone offering. The carrier stopped the practice after the complaints came rolling in.

The apology: "During a recent software update, a message to promote T-Mobile's free VIP Zone was mistakenly sent to certain customers and appeared on the notification bar for some Android devices. After T-Mobile was made aware of this mistake, the company stopped the notifications. T-Mobile apologizes for the inconvenience this may have caused customers."


*Motorola, Woot clean up their acts

Motorola Mobility in February warned people who bought but then returned Android-based Motorola Xoom tablets between March and October last year that the devices might have been resold by bargain-of-the-day website Woot with the ex-owners' sensitive data still on them. Motorola said that about 100 out of a batch of 6,200 Xoom tablets that it refurbished "may not have been completely cleared of the original owner's data prior to resale." The tablets were resold by Woot between October and December 2011.

Data possibly accessible on the uncleaned tablets could include photos and documents, as well as user names and passwords for social media, email and other accounts, Motorola acknowledged.

The company issued a statement of apology: "Motorola sincerely regrets and apologizes for any inconvenience this situation has caused the affected customers. Motorola is committed to rigorous data protection practices in order to protect its customers, and will continue to take the necessary steps to achieve this objective."

*Google earnings snafu, Gmail outage

When you're a company as wide-ranging as Google, you're always good for at least a few high-profile apologies during the year. Among the 2012 offerings: A hoarse-voiced CEO Larry Page apologizing during an analysts' call in October for the company's accidental release of its numbers too early ("I'm sorry for the scramble earlier today") , and then in April and June, mea culpas issued for Gmail outages. In April, Google apologized "for the inconvenience," thanked Gmail users for their "patience and continued support" and said that it is continually making improvements to its "system reliability," which the company considers "a top priority." However, as many as 4.8 million users were affected by another outage in June. In July, Google found itself apologizing for a Google Talk outage as well. "Please rest assured that system reliability is a top priority at Google, and we are making continuous improvements to make our systems better."

As for the premature release of its earnings statement, Google ultimately pointed to a mistake by financial printer RR Donnelley. Google's stock price got pounded for the error and hadn't quite recovered even a month later.

*Naughty Microsoft

With all the challenges to its Office and Windows products, does Microsoft really need headaches like these, too? Among the issues Microsoft has apologized for in 2012: a coder slipping the term "big boobs" into software code connecting the Linux kernel to Microsoft's Hyper-V virtualization product, and a raunchy dance routine that preceded an Azure presentation in Norway. 

As Network World's Paul McNamara wrote about the coding issue: "Some chucklehead working for Microsoft thought it would be funny to slip a thinly camouflaged sexist remark - 'big boobs' -- into software code that connects the Linux kernel to Microsoft's HyperV virtualization product. Naturally, someone noticed -- that was the intent (snicker, snicker) - and, as should surprise no one, criticism has ensued, since the vast majority of grownups have come to recognize that this kind of juvenile nonsense has no place in the business world."

Microsoft issued an apology: "We thank the community for reporting this issue and apologize for the offensive string. We have submitted a patch to fix this issue and the change will be published in a future release of the kernel."

As for the dance routine in June, Microsoft's Azure team issued this apology: "This week's Norwegian Developer's Conference included a skit that involved inappropriate and offensive elements and vulgar language. We apologize to our customers and our partners and are actively looking into the matter."

Once that was settled, Microsoft was able to focus on apologizing for interruptions to Azure service, such as it did in July when its cloud offering went on the fritz in Western Europe. "We sincerely apologize for any issues this caused impacted customers, and will make the necessary adjustments to help prevent a similar issue from occurring in the future. Impacted customers should contact support to file an SLA credit," wrote Mike Neil, general manager, Windows Azure, on a company blog

On the less racy side, Microsoft also apologized to a blogger in March in the wake of a Windows Phone marketing promotion called "Smoked by Windows Phone" that proved unfair when store employees failed to recognize the blogger's Samsung Galaxy Nexus the winner of a $1,000 laptop prize. Microsoft PC evangelist Ben Rudolph came to the rescue, via Twitter, once the story got picked up: "Hey @sahaskatta , @Microsoftstore & I want to make things right. So I've got a laptop & phone (& apology) for you. Email me!," @BenThePCGuy tweeted.

*Amazon cloud crash

People tend to notice when Amazon Web Service's cloud offerings collapse, not that they necessarily realize Amazon is involved. Rather, it's the companies whose websites depend on AWS that get noticed, and often wind up apologizing to their customers.

That's exactly what happened in October when AWS had an outage (its third major one in two years) following a new hardware installation ("latent memory bug" issue) at one of its northern Virginia data centers. Websites such as Reddit and Imgur were left to do the explaining to their would-be website visitors, while Amazon followed up with credits for its customers and a promise to fix the underlying problem, including an overaggressive traffic throttling policy. Amazon also apologized, writing in part on its AWS support site: "We apologize for the inconvenience and trouble this caused for affected customers. We know how critical our services are to our customers' businesses, and will work hard (and expeditiously) to apply the learning from this event to our services. While we saw that some of the changes that we previously made helped us mitigate some of the impact, we also learned about new failure modes. We will spend many hours over the coming days and weeks improving our understanding of the event and further investing in the resiliency of our services."

Amazon was forced to publicly apologize for another outage of its Elastic Compute Cloud lasting several hours in June that it blamed on power outages (caused by storms), software bugs and rebooting bottlenecks. Amazon's team wrote: "We regret the problems experienced by customers affected by the disruption and, in addition to giving more detail, also wanted to provide information on actions we'll be taking to mitigate these issues in the future."


*LinkedIn passwords free-for-all

LinkedIn, in June, confirmed reports that some of its users' passwords were compromised after reports surfaced that about 6.5 million LinkedIn passwords were compromised and posted online in a Russian hacker forum, in large part because LinkedIn was using a weak hashing algorithm.

The business-oriented social network site quickly updated its security and ensured users who updated their passwords that they'd be in much better shape. Even so, it was hit with a $5 million lawsuit over the breach. 

Here's what one LinkedIn VP blogged, in part: "We sincerely apologize for the inconvenience this has caused our members. We take the security of our members very seriously. If you haven't read it already it is worth checking out my earlier blog post today about updating your password and other account security best practices."

*BlueToad victimized by hackers

Digital publishing company BlueToad revealed in September that the unique identifiers of some 1 million Apple iOS devices that hackers leaked were swiped from its servers. CEO Paul DeHart's admission that his company was the hacking victim helped clear suspicion from the FBI, which the Antisec-affiliated hacking group claimed to have taken the UDIDs from. DeHart said in an interview with MSNBC (and he might be the only exec from any of these companies that apologized on camera) that his company did change its code to comply with stricter Apple guidelines earlier this year, but that the hackers got access to information stored via older code.

DeHart wrote in a blog post that: "We sincerely apologize to our partners, clients, publishers, employees and users of our apps. We take information security very seriously and have great respect and appreciation for the public's concern surrounding app and information privacy. BlueToad does not collect, nor have we ever collected, highly sensitive personal information like credit cards, social security numbers or medical information. The illegally obtained information primarily consisted of Apple device names and UDIDs - information that was reported and stored pursuant to commercial industry development practices."

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*GoDaddy goes down

GoDaddy's internal investigation of a six-plus hour outage on Sept. 10 for website and domain service business and its 52 million customers concluded that it was caused by a "series of internal network events that corrupted router database tables," not a hacker attack, as was first suspected by many after a supposed Anonymous affiliate initially took credit. GoDaddy emphasized that while customers websites went dark, their personal data was not compromised.

CEO Scott Wagner issued an apology in which he wrote in part: "Throughout our history, we have provided 99.999% uptime in our DNS infrastructure. This is the level our customers expect from us and the level we expect of ourselves. We have let our customers down and we know it. We take our business and our customers' businesses very seriously. We apologize to our customers for these events and thank them for their patience."

GoDaddy also awarded customers one month of credits in attempt to keep disappointed ones from fleeing.

*RIM CEO: Sorry about the outage

In the grand scheme of things, RIM BlackBerry network outages haven't been the worst of Research in Motion's problems this year. Rather, the company's loss of market share, weak financial results and new product delays have been front and center.

But RIM did have a three-hour network outage in September in Europe and Africa that affected about 6% of customers and prompted CEO Thorsten Heins to apologize: "I want to apologize to those BlackBerry customers in Europe and Africa who experienced an impact in their quality of service earlier this morning. The BlackBerry service is now fully restored and I can report that no data or messages were lost. Up to 6 per cent of our user base may have been impacted. Preliminary analysis suggests that those customers may have experienced a maximum delay of 3 hours in the delivery and reception of their messages. We are conducting a full technical analysis of this quality of service issue and will report as soon as it concludes. I again want to apologize to those customers who were impacted today."

*Nokia's camera trick

Nokia's big Lumia 920 Windows Phone 8 splash in September got off to a rough start when the company overreached in a video promoting the camera's Pureview camera technology. Yes, Nokia resorted to the old not-so-hidden cameraman trick.

As NW's Colin Neagle wrote in September, "Nokia was caught red-handed in a lie, after tech bloggers spotted a cameraman capturing a video the company claimed was shot with its new, highly touted Lumia 920 smartphone. After apologizing, Nokia posted a real video shot with the smartphone, displaying the optical image stabilization (OIS) camera technology that was faked on the first try."

Tech bloggers spotted in the video a reflection of a cameraman with a professional camera actually taking the shot of a women on a bicycle.

The company said its main fault was failing to publish "a disclaimer stating this was a representation of OIS only."


*Yahoo's massive breach

Yahoo apologized for a network breach in July that involved exposure of some 400,000 Yahoo user names and passwords, among other information. The breach was especially bad because it tied in with Gmail, Hotmail and other online accounts. The group claiming responsibility for the hack said it used a SQL injection. Yahoo's apology went like this: "At Yahoo! we take security very seriously and invest heavily in protective measures to ensure the security of our users and their data across all our products. We confirm that an older file from Yahoo! Contributor Network (previously Associated Content) containing approximately 400,000 Yahoo! and other company users names and passwords was stolen yesterday,July 11. Of these, less than 5% of the Yahoo! accounts had valid passwords. We are fixing the vulnerability that led to the disclosure of this data, changing the passwords of the affected Yahoo! users and notifying the companies whose users accounts may have been compromised. We apologize to affected users. We encourage users to change their passwords on a regular basis and also familiarize themselves with our online safety tips at"

*Path goes down wrong privacy path

Path, a social journal app for iPhone and Android devices, apologized in February after it came to light that the company was grabbing iPhone contact info and sticking it on its own servers. CEO Dave Morin wrote in part: "We made a mistake. Over the last couple of days users brought to light an issue concerning how we handle your personal information on Path, specifically the transmission and storage of your phone contacts. ... Through the feedback we've received from all of you, we now understand that the way we had designed our 'Add Friends' feature was wrong. We are deeply sorry if you were uncomfortable with how our application used your phone contacts."

The revelation, in turn, led to more revelations that bigger name apps like Twitter, Facebook and Foursquare were doing likewise. Apple took steps to require app makers whose wares are in its App Store to ask permission if they want to take contact info.

*McAfee: Just kidding about that malware

McAfee apologized in September for an update to its antivirus software that generated false positives for some malware on Windows machines.

"We would like to apologize for all the disruption caused to our many customers worldwide. We recognize the issue is very serious, and are doing everything we can to resolve it."

*Sophos slips up

Security firm Sophos apologized in September for wreaking havoc on its customers' networks after a bad update to its antivirus software caused false positives for certain malware to occur on Windows machines.

Sophos was upfront about the issue: "We would like to apologize for all the disruption caused to our many customers worldwide. We recognize the issue is very serious, and are doing everything we can to resolve it." Sophos said in its critical advisory that it thinks the problem was caused by a release from SophosLab for use with its Live Protection system.

Bob Brown tracks network research in his Alpha Doggs blog and Facebook page, as well on Twitter and Google +.

Read more about data center in Network World's Data Center section.

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Tags cloud computingmanagementsmartphonesinternetbusiness issueswirelessAppleNetworkingData Centerhardware systemscorporate issuesconsumer electronicsConfiguration / maintenanceAmazon outagetechnology company apologiesApple Maps problemsGmail outageRIM BlackBerry OS 10 delay

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