Tech companies had lots to be sorry for in 2009

Here's a recap of the big names from Amazon to Apple to Microsoft who were forced to issue mea culpas in the wake of bad and worse decisions

Kanye West, President Obama and David Letterman grabbed headlines this year when they apologized for assorted ill-advised acts or rash statements. But they more than met their match in the high tech industry, where big names from Amazon to Apple to Microsoft were forced to issue mea culpas in the wake of bad and worse decisions. Here's a recap of what the tech industry has been most sorry about in 2009.

Amazon apologizes for Kindle book deletions

In what might have been the most blunt apology of the year, Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos in July pleaded stupidity and thoughtlessness for his company's decision to delete copies of George Orwell's "1984" and other books from Kindle e-readers that Amazon had not gained permission to sell in the first place:

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Watch a slideshow of these apologies.

This is an apology for the way we previously handled illegally sold copies of 1984 and other novels on Kindle. Our "solution" to the problem was stupid, thoughtless, and painfully out of line with our principles. It is wholly self-inflicted, and we deserve the criticism we've received. We will use the scar tissue from this painful mistake to help make better decisions going forward, ones that match our mission.

With deep apology to our customers,

Jeff Bezos, Founder & CEO, Amazon.com

iPhone apology #1: Baby Shaker

Granted, Apple does have a lot of apps to keep track of in its App Store – the number was at 100,000 as of November -- but that didn't excuse it from letting the notorious "Baby Shaker" app onto its site in April. That app, if you don't recall, involved shaking the iPhone vigorously to get an on-screen baby to stop crying. And its existence in the App Store got brain injury activists on the case in a hurry. Apple yanked the app and issuing the following apology:

This application was deeply offensive and should not have been approved for distribution on the App Store. When we learned of this mistake, the app was removed immediately. We sincerely apologize for this mistake and thank our customers for bringing this to our attention.

A Web site bearing the name of Sikalosoft, the developer of the app, also contained an apology of sort, plus information about Shaken Baby Syndrome:

Okay, so maybe the Baby Shaker iPhone app was a bad idea. You should never shake a baby! Even on an Apple iPhone Baby Shaking application. No babies were harmed in the making of Baby Shaker.

iPhone apology #2: Amp Up Before You Score

Pepsi in October apologized for and eventually pulled an App Store entry called "Amp Up Before You Score" that offered guys advice on how to pick up various types of women and document all this on a "brag list" online. The apology, via Twitter, read:

Our app tried 2 show the humorous lengths guys go2 get women. We apologize if it's in bad taste & appreciate ur feedback.

Microsoft's Danger lives up to its name

T-Mobile and Microsoft went into big time damage control after an outage at Microsoft's Danger subsidiary threatened to wipe out data from users of T-Mobile's Sidekick smartphones. The situation quickly earned the vendors a slot on the list of all-time cloud computing outages. In the end, the vendors were able to recover most of the data, T-Mobile offered $100 gift certificate, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer characterized the episode as "not good" and Microsoft issued this apology:

On behalf of Microsoft, I want to apologize for the recent problems with the Sidekick service and give you an update on the steps we have taken to resolve these problems.

We are pleased to report that we have recovered most, if not all, customer data for those Sidekick customers whose data was affected by the recent outage. We plan to begin restoring users' personal data as soon as possible, starting with personal contacts, after we have validated the data and our restoration plan. We will then continue to work around the clock to restore data to all affected users, including calendar, notes, tasks, photographs and high scores, as quickly as possible.

We now believe that data loss affected a minority of Sidekick users. If your Sidekick account was among those affected, please continue to log into the T-Mobile Sidekick forum at for the latest updates about when data restoration will begin, and any steps you may need to take. We will work with T-Mobile to post the next update on data restoration timing no later than Saturday.

We have determined that the outage was caused by a system failure that created data loss in the core database and the back-up. We rebuilt the system component by component, recovering data along the way. This careful process has taken a significant amount of time, but was necessary to preserve the integrity of the data.

We will continue working closely with T-Mobile to restore user data as quickly as possible. We are eager to deliver the level of reliable service that our incredibly loyal customers have become accustomed to, and we are taking immediate steps to help ensure this does not happen again. Specifically, we have made changes to improve the overall stability of the Sidekick service and initiated a more resilient backup process to ensure that the integrity of our database backups is maintained.

Once again, we apologize for this situation and the inconvenience that it has created. Please know that we are working all-out to resolve this situation and restore the reliability of the service.

Sincerely, Roz Ho, Corporate Vice President, Premium Mobile Experiences, Microsoft Corporation, Oct. 15, 2009

Microsoft regrets photo-swap incident

Microsoft was red-faced after it was discovered that an ad featuring an image of a black man's face on Microsoft's U.S. Web site was replaced with a white man's face in an ad appearing on the Web site of Microsoft's Polish subsidiary. The man's hand didn't change color, however. Microsoft issued this statement:

We are looking into the details of this situation. We apologize and are in the process of pulling down the image.

The reviews are in for Belkin…

Belkin's admission that an employee had been offering to pay for favorable Web-based peer reviews of its network gear raised the question of not only how widespread such practices are but whether they undermine community and trust in the connections and relationships that the Web seems to foster so easily. Here's how the company's president addressed the situation publicly:

Belkin has always held itself to the highest standards of corporate ethics and its employees to the highest standards of personal integrity. Similarly, we support our online user community in discussion and reviews of our products, whether the commentary is good or bad. So, it was with great surprise and dismay when we discovered that one of our employees may have posted a number of queries on the Amazon Mechanical Turk website inviting users to post positive reviews of Belkin products in exchange for payment.

Belkin does not participate in, nor does it endorse, unethical practices like this. We know that people look to online user reviews for unbiased opinions from fellow users and instances like this challenge the implicit trust that is placed in this interaction. We regard our responsibility to our user community as sacred, and we are extremely sorry that this happened.We want to stress that this is an isolated incident and to re-instill trust with you, we have taken the following courses of action:

-- We've acted swiftly to remove all associated postings from the Mechanical Turk system.

-- We're working closely with our online channel partners to ensure that any reviews that may have been placed due to these postings have been removed. It's also important to recognize that our retail partners had no knowledge of, or participation in, these postings.

Once again, we apologize for this occurrence, and we will work earnestly to regain the trust we have lost.

Sincerely, Mark Reynoso, President, Belkin

Rackspace: About that cloud outage

Rackspace found itself apologizing to its users in November and promising to earn back customers' trust after a power outage in its Dallas-Fort Worth datacenter. Several thousand customers were affected by the power outage, which caused downtime of up to a few hours for customers using Rackspace's Cloud Sites, a Web site hosting service, and Slicehost, which provides hosted virtual servers.

Rackspace previously suffered outages in June and July. The fall outage occurred during maintenance work that was meant to solve the problems that caused the previous outages. The apology goes on for a bit, but reads in part:

Here is how we plan to deal with it:

• We have invested massively in the DFW facility to ensure it delivers at a level you expect from Rackspace -- despite last night, we feel very good about our plan and have high confidence in the DFW facility -- clearly we have to prove it.

• We are reviewing our maintenance notifications -- we typically do not share information on expected non-impacting events, but clearly we need to ensure we calibrate these events and are fully transparent.

• We are reviewing our procedures and systems for quickly resuming cloud operations when an unexpected event like this occurs -- unexpected events will happen, our job is to minimize their impacts.

We live by high standards and clearly have not lived up to them. We welcome any feedback… We have work to do to earn back your trust. We will not rest until we have.

Thank you, Emil Sayegh, General Manager, The Rackspace Cloud

Major League Baseball Web video a slow starter

Major League Baseball's fee-based MLB.TV game video-streaming service had technical problems related to a plug-in that affected the quality of Web broadcasts to start its season in April. The league acknowledged as much in posts on Sunday and Monday -- the first days of the season -- in the official MLB.TV blog:

• First off, yesterday was not great. Apologies for the lack of communication. There were many fires and we were off working on them and didn't man the blog.

• We have a lot more to do still to get the [media] player to perform in a more stable manner across the board.

A virtual apology from VMware to Microsoft

VMware's Scott Drummonds was forced to publicly apologize after anonymously posting a YouTube video that misled viewers on the reliability of Microsoft's Hyper-V. He also removed the video from YouTube.

About a month and a half ago, I anonymously posted a YouTube video depicting a controversial test of Microsoft's Hyper-V. The video was a bit hyperbolic in its dramatization of Hyper-V's reliability. Unfortunately, my intention to stir the pot with eye-poking banter has put my credibility and by association VMware's credibility in question among some of you. For this I apologize. I've also sent a note of apology to Jeff Woosley at Microsoft.

Dancer "Woz" steps on some toes

Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, suspicious of the judges' intentions on the Dancing with the Stars TV show he was competing on, laid out those suspicions on his Facebook page in March. That was followed shortly by an apology from Wozniak, who fell short of winning the contest.

I have been around the internet conspiracy theory forums for too long.

We know how easy it is to espouse a lot of ideas and build conspiracy theory. No conspiracy theory can be proven wrong, so there are always plenty of die-hard followers.

Yesterday I wrote my suspicions of the secret Dancing With The Stars audience vote tabulations. I wrote that the producers were liars, simply because I truly believed in that possibility, not because I had a shred of evidence.

I hurt a lot of honest people.

Today, a storm kicked up over my allegations. I started my apologies but it has to go further than that.

The top people of this show, ones responsible for counting audience votes and keeping them honest told me all the specific details of where their numbers came from. More than that, they explained how they can catch onto various forms of manipulation of the system by exactly the methods I had thought out in my head that would work. I was offered an opportunity to see the equipment they use also. You can tell when things are extremely on the level. You can also see why the exact totals cannot be released. That would make it harder to detect fraud. One main way that they detect fraud is when the phone-in votes and text votes and internet votes don't follow each other, percentage-wise. There are other things they look for as well that IT experts would detect as signals of something wrong.

Do you remember how honest Jarnal was in Slumdog Millionaire? I feel so horrible inside when Conrad, one of the DWTS producers, told me how horribly what I had said injured the show and himself. You can tell when someone is speaking in a way that they can't possibly be a liar or trying to deceive you the least bit. Conrad and the other producers are not liars. They are extremely honest people in my mind.

And nobody could get me to write this if I didn't believe it myself.

In this case they are certainly more honorable and honest than myself.

The only thing I can offer as an explanation is that emotions wind up getting very high on a show like this. I was around some swarming emotions yesterday. Now I feel like a heel who stuck his shoe in his mouth, no puns intended. I have done it before and been on the other end of it as well, and it's not nice either way.

My last hope is that you can see inside of me and know that I am telling the truth from the bottom of my heart, and forgive the loudmouth emotional notes I wrote earlier.

I'm on to have fun with the show now, and you may see me dance in minutes.

regards, Woz

Google apologizes again and again and…

Google has so many darn services these days that it seems the company is always apologizing for some outage or other, but as some point out, it's not so bad when you consider so much of the stuff is free. Gmail, Google News and Google Docs all got users up in arms at one point or another this year because of outages, and Google kept apologizing. One example, from the Gmail blog on Feb. 24:

The Gmail outage that affected many consumers and Google Apps users worldwide is now over. Users should find that they’re able to access their email now without any further problems.

Before you can access your Gmail, you may be asked to fill in what's called a 'CAPTCHA' which asks you to type in a word or some letters before you can proceed. This is perfectly normal when you repeatedly request access to your e-mail account, so please do go through the extra step -– it's just to verify you are who you say you are.

The outage itself lasted approximately two and a half hours from 9.30 a.m. GMT. We know that for many of you this disrupted your working day. We're really sorry about this, and we did do everything to restore access as soon as we could. Our priority was to get you back up and running. Our engineers are still investigating the root cause of the problem.

Obviously we're never happy when outages occur, but we would like to stress that this is an unusual occurrence. We know how important Gmail is to you, and how much people rely on the service.

Thanks again for bearing with us.

Posted by Acacio Cruz, Gmail Site Reliability Manager

Hotel comes clean

Data breach apologies are tricky. Companies might want to share their regrets, but lawyers might instruct them otherwise. Regardless, many organizations are forced by law to at least acknowledge leaks and some, such as Radisson Hotels & Resorts, do issue honest to goodness apologies:

OPEN LETTER TO RADISSON® GUESTSAugust 19, 2009To Radisson® Hotels & Resorts guests:Radisson values your business and respects the privacy of your information, which is why we wish to inform you that between November 2008 and May 2009, the computer systems of some Radisson® hotels in the U.S. and Canada were accessed without authorization. This unauthorized access was in violation of both civil and criminal laws. Radisson has been coordinating with federal law enforcement to assist in the investigation of this incident. While the number of potentially affected hotels involved in this incident is limited, the data accessed may have included guest information such as the name printed on a guest's credit card or debit card, a credit or debit card number, and/or a card expiration date.We recommend that you review your account statements and credit reports closely. To the extent there is any suspected unauthorized card activity, it should be reported to the bank that issued your credit card, as well as proper law enforcement authorities, your state attorney general's office, or the Federal Trade Commission. Please also visit our website for instructions on how to receive free credit monitoring for one year.Radisson values guest privacy and deeply regrets this incident occurred. Working with law enforcement and forensic investigators, Radisson is conducting a thorough review of the potentially affected computer systems, and has implemented additional security measures designed to prevent a recurrence of such an attack and to protect the privacy of Radisson's valued guests. The company also is working closely with major credit card suppliers and law enforcement to ensure the incident is properly addressed.For further assistance regarding this incident, please visit Radisson at http://www.Radisson.com/openletter/ or call (866) 584-9255 between 7 a.m. – 11 p.m. CST daily. Radisson is focused on delivering guest satisfaction and value for our guests and is committed to doing everything we can to resolve this issue expediently and thoroughly to reinforce your confidence.Sincerely,Fredrik KorallusExecutive Vice President & Chief Operating OfficerRadisson® Hotels & Resorts

This story, "Tech companies had lots to be sorry for in 2009" was originally published by Network World.

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