Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos Apology for Kindle-Big Brother Incident

Last week owners of the Amazon Kindle ebook reader got a chilling taste of Big Brotherism when Amazon — without warning — remotely deleted previously purchased copies of several titles from their devices. Had the book in question been Pride & Prejudice this would not have been as big of a story/public relations nightmare as it turned out to be for Amazon. But the books in question were probably the worst possible titles to have involved in such an incident — 1984 and Animal Farm by George Orwell.

Yeah. So as you can imagine, the headlines practically wrote themselves:

Why Amazon went Big Brother on some Kindle e-books

Hey, Big Brother! Hands off my Kindle!

Amazon Kindle users surprised by ‘Big Brother’ move

And so forth. Twitter was all a twitter about it too. Amazon’s explanation was that the publisher of these Orwell e-books lacked the right to publish the books. When the true rights holder brought this to Amazon’s attention, Amazon removed the illegal copies from its site — properly — and also reached out in the dead of night to electronically remove copies from the devices of sleeping Kindle owners. In this (as President Obama might agree if he were so foolish as to comment on matters not pertaining to doing his job),  Amazon acted stupidly.

The explanation did little to mollify outraged Kindle owners and others concerned about Orwellian overreach. After all, if customers had previously purchased what turned out to be bootleg copies of a hardback edition of 1984, Amazon would hardly break into customers’ houses in the middle of the night to retrieve them. At least one hopes not.

Yesterday, on the Kindle owners forum at Amazon.com, CEO Jeff Bezos issued a brief apology:

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

This is a good corporate apology. Maybe a bit late. But Bezos speaks in his own name and straight up says we were stupid, we deserve your scorn, we violated our own principles in this matter, and we have learned from our mistake. Bezos says more in one paragraph than some corporate apologizers manage in several pages. (Go look up that GM disaster again.)

Well done, Bezos. But I’m still not buying a Kindle.

STRATFOR Apology for Technical Glitch

Here is a great example of an apology done right, from STRATFOR. A couple of days ago STRATFOR sent an email to subscribers, inviting them to take survey. Apparently there was a problem with the survey. Shortly thereafter, STRATFOR sent out the following:

Dear STRATFOR Reader:

My apologies. We’ve had technical and content problems with the survey we just released, and it’s apparent to us that it should never have gone out in its present form. If you’ve not yet tried to take the survey, please disregard my prior email invitation. If you’ve already attempted to take the survey, please forgive me for having wasted your time. This was poorly executed on our end, and I apologize again.

I’ll see all replies to this email, and you can also call my direct line at xxx-xxx-xxxx with any questions.

Thank you for your understanding.

Very truly yours,
Aaric Eisenstein, SVP Publishing

This is about as close to the gold standard of a corporate apology as you can get. First, it was immediate–sent out as soon as STRATFOR confirmed that there was a problem. It comes directly from the responsible corporate officer, over his signature [literally, an image of his signature that I did not reproduce here] and in his own voice. Mr. Eisenstein apologizes, describes the problem, admits fault, asks readers’ forgiveness for wasting our time, again admits fault and apologizes. Then he invites readers to email him or call his direct line if you want to vent about it. [I redacted the number. You don’t need to call him.]. It’s almost like he read John Kador’s book.

But I don’t think STRATFOR needed apology advice. Their business is providing global intelligence, analyzing geopolitical events, evaluating political risk factors, etc. STRATFOR’s stock in trade is telling it like it is to the best of their ability. This technical glitch is a minor thing that may have irritated and frustrated some readers — but they turned it into an opportunity to reinforce their reputation, brand image, good name, or whatever you want to call it. This is exactly how you’d expect STRATFOR to respond — own up, apologize, fix it, move on. An A+ apology in anyone’s book!

AirTran Apology for ejecting Muslim passengers

We can pretty much depend on our nation’s airlines to provide us with at least one good apology-worthy incident each month. Granted, we’ll never hear an apology for most of the things that airlines should apologize for — like cramped seats, ridiculous extra fees, late flights, canceled flights, etc. Personally, I always cheer when an airline goes bankrupt, simply because most of them have ticked me off at one time or another. Although bankruptcy doesn’t seem to kill them. They just rise up from the grave and go right back to overcharging, frustrating and inconveniencing their passengers. Or, as in the case of AirTran this week, throwing their passengers off the plane.

What happened? From the AP story, via the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

Washington — AirTran Airways apologized Friday to nine Muslims kicked
off a New Year’s Day flight to Florida after other passengers reported
hearing a suspicious remark about airplane security. One of the
passengers said the confusion started at Reagan National Airport in
Washington, D.C., when he talked about the safest place to sit on an
airplane.

Yeah, don’t talk about that.

… Irfan said when he boarded the flight Thursday, he mentioned
something to his wife and sister-in-law about having to sit in the
back. His sister-in-law replied that she believed the back of the
airplane was the safest, but Irfan believed it was better to be by the
wings.

“She said, ‘Yes, I guess it makes sense not to be close to the
engine in case something happens,” Irfan recalled Friday. “It was a
very benign conversation.”

Or so he would have us believe, because …

Shortly after taking their seats, members of the group was
approached by federal air marshals and taken off the plane, Irfan said.
They stood in the jet bridge connected to the airport and answered
questions while other passengers exited and glared at them.

No doubt. Although maybe they should have been glaring at the jackass who dropped a dime on this group and caused everyone to miss their flight.

Irfan said he thought he and the others were profiled because of
their appearance. The men had beards and the women wore headscarves,
traditional Muslim attire.

That very well might have had something to do with it.   Now for the apology, in the form of a statement on AirTran’s website:

AirTran Airways Offers Apology to Customers on Flight 175 Yesterday

ORLANDO, Fla., Jan. 2 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/ — AirTran Airways, a subsidiary of AirTran Holdings, Inc. (NYSE: AAI), today issued the following statement regarding AirTran flight 175 originating at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport on January 1, 2009.

Gotta love that personal touch. This is a run-of-the-mill routine corporate apology. Impersonal corporate third person voice. Yeah, yeah, we insulted an inconvenienced you, we’re sorry, whatever.

Our goal at AirTran Airways is to offer a safe, pleasant and positive travel experience for all customers every day on every flight. We sincerely regret that the passengers on flight 175 did not have a positive travel experience on January 1, 2009.

See? So heartwarming and deeply felt.

Security is a shared responsibility and this incident highlights the multiple layers of security that are in place in today’s aviation environment. While ultimately this issue proved to be a misunderstanding, the steps taken were necessary.

It also highlights the multiple layers of numbskullery and inane nonsense that pass for airline security, but that is another whole topic.

Alert passengers reported to the flight crew what they believed were inappropriate comments allegedly made by one of the passengers onboard, and the flight crew notified the federal air marshals that were assigned to the flight.

Am I the only one troubled by the notion that my right to fly is subject to the discretion of what  “alert passengers” nearby think is an inappropriate comment?

The federal air marshals on board contacted local and federal law enforcement officials who came to the gate and escorted the individuals in question off the aircraft to ensure they posed no threat to the flight. After deplaning the remaining passengers and performing a sweep of the aircraft and rescreening all passengers, crew, checked and carry-on baggage, the flight departed two hours late without the nine passengers who were detained for questioning.

See what I mean? Some ” alert” dope in the next row thinks you look funny and you get detained and questioned by federal officials.

We regret that the issue escalated to the heightened security level it did on New Year’s Day, but we trust everyone understands that the security and the safety of our passengers is paramount and cannot be compromised.

Translation: It wasn’t really our fault. We had no choice. National security!

We apologize to all of the passengers — to the nine who had to undergo extensive interviews from the authorities and to the 95 who ultimately made the flight. Nobody on Flight 175 reached their destination on time on New Year’s Day, and we regret it.

Hey, what can you do? Crazy times we live in. Just better hope the guy sitting next to you doesn’t suddenly accuse you of saying something suspicious. But if he does,and you get hauled off by the Feds, we will regret you not reaching your destination.

The airline has refunded the air fares of the nine passengers detained for questioning, has agreed to reimburse the passengers for expenses incurred by taking another airline and has also offered to transport the passengers home to Washington, DC, free of charge.

We’ll also refund your ticket … and invite you to fly with us again, free of charge! Feel better yet?

Sadly, this is a run-of-the-mill and not very sincere apology because these kinds of incidents happen with such frequency that they have become commonplace. Bad weather, mechanical difficulty, missing crew, wild accusations of paranoid passengers … there are all routine causes of delay that generate pro forma apologies from airlines.

Just for fun, check out AirTran’s Mission Statement.

GM Apology for Making Bad Cars — Part 3: Special Comment from Special Guest John Kador

**************************
(General Motors week continues here at Apology Index
  (not as gory as Shark Week, but in some ways much more scary!). You’ve read my take on the GM non-apology and a roundup of analysis from others, such as the ever-delectable Michelle Malkin. Today we have a holiday treat for you — AI’s first ever Special Guest blogger!

In our coverage of public apologies, AI has returned to certain themes again and again:

  • What are the elements of a sincere and effective apology?
  • Why do some apologies leave a bad taste in our mouths?
  • What are the special considerations for corporate apologies as opposed to apologies by individuals?

While AI haphazardly hits these points from time to time, other students of apology take a serious and systematic look at apologies, the ethics thereof, and how to apologize effectively in personal and business situations. Bestselling author John Kador has done just that, both in his forthcoming book Effective Apology and in articles and commentaries online.

Despite his own expertise–and in a curious lapse of good judgment–John reads Apology Index. He had some thoughts on GM’s “apology” this week that he wanted to share with AI readers, so I’ve invited John to take the AI wheel today with this Special Guest commentary.)
*****************************
GM: Contrition is Good, But Where’s the Apology?

By John Kador

General Motors, the world’s largest automaker, is taking baby steps on the road to apology.    GM has been widely applauded for “apologizing” for its mistakes in a full-page advertisement in Automotive News.  But while the company admits mistakes, concedes it has disappointed consumers, and promises to do better, there is no real apology there.  Not yet.  In due course, GM will issue a genuine apology, but this is not it.  Not even close.  And when it does we will know it, because while it is hard to define effective apology, we know it when we see it.  

A genuine apology meets five requirements.  I call these the Five Rs:  Recognition, Responsibility, Regret, Restitution, and Repetition.  The GM statement meets only two of them.

An apology is effective when it specifies what the offender is apologizing for, accepts responsibility for the outcome, expresses regret by using the words “I’m sorry” or “I apologize,” offers appropriate restitution, and promises not to repeat the offensive behavior.  The GM statement recognizes some of the mistakes the company made.  It also suggests that it has learned from its mistakes and will not repeat them.  But the statement falls short of effective apology by failing to explicitly accept responsibility for its predicament.  Indeed, later in its statement it blames a “perfect storm” of economic conditions.  There may be truth in this, but it’s more of an explanation than an apology.

But as an apology, the GM statement misses the boat by failing to address the two hardest pieces of effective apology:  regret and restitution.

No Regret, No Restitution

Expressing regret or remorse is the central part of any apology.  It is here that the apologizer offers the magic words “I’m sorry” or “I apologize.”   Any other language pales in power.  For many people, especially leaders and people in authority, these are the two hardest words to utter.  For too long, leaders have assumed that apologizing is a sign of weakness and that followers will be rattled by evidence that leaders can make mistakes.  But those attitudes are being replaced by evidence that, to the contrary, the willingness to apologize is taken as an indication of confidence.  Followers know that no one is perfect.  What they want are leaders who can admit and learn from their mistakes.  What they want from their leaders is accountability and transparency.

Restitution is the other stumbling block where many apologizers pull back and thereby limit the effectiveness of their apology.  Restitution is the practical attempt by the offender to restore the relationship to what it was before, to disgorge property or privilege that he or she unfairly gained, and to demonstrate a measure of humility.  Restitution requires more than words.  You cannot talk your way out of a situation you acted yourself into.  Restitution is often painful, but in the long run it’s less painful than staying on the road of denial and defensiveness.  

GM has taken small steps on the road to apology, and for this the company deserves commendation.  But if a genuine apology is what it wants, GM still has a way to go.  This is part of what GM said in its ad titled “GM’s Commitment to the American People”:

 . . .  we acknowledge we have disappointed you. At times we violated your trust by letting our quality fall below industry standards and our designs become lackluster. We have proliferated our brands and dealer network to the point where we lost adequate focus on our core U.S. market. We also biased our product mix toward pick-up trucks and SUVs. And, we made commitments to compensation plans that have proven to be unsustainable in today’s globally competitive industry. We have paid dearly for these decisions, learned from them and are working hard to correct them by restructuring our U.S. business to be viable for the long term.

Nothing is more certain than GM will eventually issue a more complete apology.  When it does, the apology will come from CEO Rick Wagoner, who as the leader of GM, will accept personal responsibility.  It will be Wagoner’s final gesture of leadership at GM.  The apology may well sound something like this.  The first paragraph is pretty much the same:

On behalf of the entire General Motors team, I acknowledge we have disappointed you.  We violated your trust by letting our quality fall below industry standards and our designs become lackluster. We have proliferated our brands and dealer network to the point where we lost adequate focus on our core U.S. market. We also biased our product mix toward pick-up trucks and SUVs. And, we made commitments to compensation plans that have proven to be unsustainable in today’s globally competitive industry.

These failures will now require substantial sacrifice from the entire GM family.  As chairman and CEO of General Motors, I accept responsibility for these failures.  To the employees, retirees, dealers, consumers, and the American taxpayer who is now being called on to sacrifice for us, I say I apologize.  I’m sorry for my arrogance and failure of leadership.  I have always insisted that GM executives take responsibility for their failures.  I can ask no less of myself.  For this reason, I have informed the board of directors that I am resigning from my positions as chairman and CEO of General Motors.  I believe GM will learn enduring lessons from its mistakes and will be better positioned not to repeat them.  We are proud of our century of contribution to U.S. prosperity and look forward to making an equally meaningful contribution during our next 100 years.

Perceptions of Apology Have Shifted

The recent experience of GM, as well as Ford and Chrysler, validates the shifting perceptions of contrition and apology.  When the CEOs of the Detroit Three first went before Congress to plead for a bailout, they were roundly criticized for flying to DC in three separate private jets.  The CEOs were tone-deaf to the requirements for contrition and humility.  They walked away empty-handed.  But they quickly learned that strength flows not from defending themselves, shifting responsibility to the economy, or combativeness but from demonstrating contrition, admitting mistakes, and humbling themselves.  They walked (or jetted) away with nothing but scathing criticism.  For their next appearance before Congress, the CEOs drove hybrid cars and were willing to admit mistakes and accept salary reductions.   They drove back to Detroit with a promise of help, albeit at a level half of what they requested.

I believe that if they had apologized in terms I outlined above, the Big Three would be in a much stronger position to get the resources they need.  The take-away from all of this is, that morality aside, apology is effective.  It’s not only the virtuous thing for an organization to apologize when it makes mistakes, but it’s often the most direct avenue to getting what it wants. This is true for individuals as well as organizations.

GM Apology for Making Bad Cars — Part 2

As promised last time, we now take a closer look at GM’s recent “apology” for making bad cars. I put apology in quotes because a careful reader will note that although headline writers call it an apology, nowhere in the text (pdf here for your collection) does GM actually say they’re sorry. But they would like that $18 billion bailout please.

The always enterprising Michelle Malkin points out that GM has done this apology shtick before:

Like I said, I knew this apology strategy sounded familiar.

That’s because GM ran a “We’re sorry we suck so much” ad campaign five years ago in that sounded the same themes.

So this isn’t the first time GM has come crawling back with a mealy-mouthed apology for its corporate suckitude … that only confirms my loser boyfriend interpretation of this sorry spectacle!

Autoblog throws open the discussion. Commenters there are divided. Some blame GM for building big, gas-guzzling trucks and SUVs. Others blame American consumers for buying big, gas-guzzling trucks and SUVs. Still others blame GM for making Americans want to buy big, gas-guzzling trucks and SUVs — further reinforcing the codependency theme.

Kendra Marr of the Washington Post, interviews Gene Grabowski, chair of the crisis and litigation practice at Levick Strategic Communications, and others, about GM’s approach. (We’ve heard from the Levick crowd before, commenting on corporate apologies.) He says apologizing isn’t easy for corporate America.

But GM does seem to have the non-apology apology down.

Patricia Sellers at Fortune, rolls the GM letter into a roundup of what she calls a positive recent trend of “leaders fessing up.” All of her examples–GM letter, Vikrim Pandit and Robert Rubin at Citigroup,  President Bush are of leaders admitting to making mistakes–or at least admitting that mistakes were made–but none seem to involve actual apologies. Ms. Sellers notes that admitting mistakes is not enough.

I think that is why the GM pseudo-apology falls flat. It coincides with begging for $18 billion or more from the taxpayers, it isn’t the first time the company has used this ploy, and their statement contains no real expression of remorse or clear and specific commitment to improve their ways. I mean “produce automobiles you want to buy and are excited to own”  is a bit vague. GM basically comes across as one of those pushy panhandlers you encounter in some cities … the ones who follow you down the block spinning their yarn about how they need a dollar for bus fare to the train station because their — apparently invisible — car broke down. Exact same thing, except GM wants to shake you down for $18 billion instead of the loose change in your pocket.

If they were really, truly sorry about the sorry way they’ve run their business, might General Motors have found it in themselves to come clean and really apologize and have a real plan to once again be the innovative global leaders American car companies used to be (and I think we all wish still were) before things got this bad?

In the end, I agree with Ms. Malkin and many others:

GM’s “road to redemption” five years ago turned out to be another dead end.

If you subsidize it, you’ll get more of it.

The “$15 billion” auto bailout installment is essentially a blank check for a carmaker that admits it has run a failing business for the last 25 years.

Let them fail. Let them go bankrupt. Let some with more enterprise, more foresight, more brains, and more guts acquire GM’s assets, pick up the pieces and rebuild the American auto industry. Sorry GM. It’s just not working out.

It is time to dump this chump!

GM Apology for Making Bad Cars

On Monday, General Motors took out a full page ad in Automotive News in which the company–currently begging Congress to give it American taxpayers’ money even though American consumers don’t want its cars–acknowledges having disappointed and betrayed American consumers.

Betrayed? That’s mighty strong language. Was GM secretly selling top secret plans for the good cars to Japan?

(Full disclosure: my car is a Chrysler.)

Let’s plow through the text of the allegedly apologetic ad

GM’S COMMITMENT TO THE AMERICAN PEOPLE

Oh, now you want a commitment, GM. Sure, you’ve been abusing us with your sub-par cars for years and now that you realize you’re about to get kicked to the curb — well, not the curb but the junkyard –suddenly you want to talk commitment. Well, we’re seeing Honda now. But whatever.

We deeply appreciate the Congress considering General Motors’ request to borrow up to $18 billion from the United States. We want to be sure the American people know why we need it, what we’ll do with it and how it will make GM viable for the long term.

As I think we here at Apology Index have noted before, these corporate apologies sound much more sincere when coming from an actual, identifiable person at the company — such as the CEO — rather than from the anonymous, impersonal, corporate royal we. That alone should set the red light blinking on your Insincereometer.

For a century, we have been serving your personal mobility needs,
providing American jobs and serving local communities. We have been the U.S. sales leader for 76 consecutive years. Of the 250 million cars and trucks on U.S. roads today, more than 66 million are GM brands – nearly 44 million more than Toyota brands. Our goal is to continue to fulfill your aspirations and exceed your expectations.

See what I mean? This is totally the abusive, loser boyfriend begging you to take him back:

We had some good times, didn’t we, baby? Remember the Corvair …  no, wait, I mean the Vega! No, not the Vega. How about  the backseat of that Chevette? Anyway, I sill have 50% more vehicles on the road than Toyota, if you know what I mean.

While we’re still the U.S. sales leader, we acknowledge we have disappointed you. At times we violated your trust by letting our quality fall below industry standards and our designs become lackluster. We have proliferated our brands and dealer network to the point where we lost adequate focus on our core U.S. market. We also biased our product mix toward pick-up trucks and SUVs. And, we made commitments to compensation plans that have proven to be unsustainable in today’s globally competitive industry. We have paid dearly for these decisions, learned from them and are working hard to correct them by restructuring our U.S. business to be viable for the long term.

Look, baby, I know I let you down. I know my quality control wasn’t always what it should have been. Maybe I didn’t pay enough attention to your needs. You needed safe, reliable, affordable, fuel-efficient cars. I get that. I get that. . I know I betrayed you with all those pick-ups and I was very proliferate with a lot of different brands. Maybe I even gave you an SUV you didn’t want. But I’ve learned from my mistakes. I’m sorry, baby. Things are going to be better now, you’ll see!

Today, we have substantially overcome our quality gap; our newest designs like the Chevrolet Malibu and Cadillac CTS are widely heralded for their appeal; our new products are nearly all cars and “crossovers” rather than pick-ups and SUVs; our factories have greatly improved productivity and our labor agreements are much more competitive. We are also driven to lead in fuel economy, with more hybrid models for sale and biofuel-capable vehicles on the road than any other manufacturer, and determined to reinvent the automobile with products like the Chevrolet Volt extended-range electric vehicle and breakthrough technology like hydrogen fuel cells.

Check out my sweet new designs, baby. You know you want my Malibu, boo. I’m not doing the pick-ups and the SUVs no more. I have crossed over. I’ve gotten really interested in being green and saving the environment now, baby. I really care about  these things. I know that surprises you, but it’s the truth. This is the only planet we got, baby! We got to share it with the rainforest and the baby seals and all that. Yeah, I’ve reinvented myself, baby. And it’s all for you. Including by breakthrough extended range. It’s all electric. Can you feel the tingle?

Until recent events, we felt the actions we’d been taking positioned us for a bright future. Just a year ago, after we reached transformational agreements with our unions, industry analysts were forecasting a positive GM turnaround. We had adequate cash on hand to continue our restructuring even under relatively conservative industry sales volume assumptions.

But I’ve got to tell you, baby. These problems we’re having lately. I never saw it coming. I thought things were going fine.

Unfortunately, along with all Americans, we were hit by a “perfect storm.” Over the past year we have all faced volatile energy prices, the collapse of the U.S. housing market, failing financial institutions, a stock market crash and the complete freezing of credit. We are in the midst of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. Just like you, we have been severely impacted by events outside our control. U.S. auto industry sales have fallen to their lowest per capita rate in half a century. Despite moving quickly to reduce our planned spending by over $20 billion, GM finds itself precariously and frighteningly close to running out of cash.

Anyway, I lost my job and I’m about to get kicked out of my apartment so I thought, you know, could I stay with you for a while?

This is why we need to borrow money from U.S. taxpayers. If we run
out of cash, we will be unable to pay our bills, sustain our operations
and invest in advanced technology. A collapse of GM and the domestic
auto industry will accelerate the downward spiral of an already anemic
U.S. economy. This will be devastating to all Americans, not just GM
stakeholders, because it would put millions of jobs at risk and deepen
our recession. By lending GM money, you will provide us with a
financial bridge until the U.S. economy and auto sales return to
modestly healthy levels. This will allow us to keep operating and
complete our restructuring.

And could you loan me a few billion bucks? I’ll pay you back. It’s just until things pick up, I promise!

Wait, I didn’t mean to say “pick-up.”

Baby, you can’t just leave me on the street. That would be devastating, to you and to me. I know you couldn’t sleep at night, thinking about me all hungry and cold and lonely out there. Loan me the money and you’ll feel much better, I promise.

We submitted a plan to Congress Dec. 2, 2008, detailing our commitments to ensure our viability, strengthen our competitiveness, and deliver energy-efficient products. Specifically, we are committed to:

• produce automobiles you want to buy and are excited to own
• lead the reinvention of the automobile based on promising new technology
• focus on our core brands to consistently deliver on their promises
• streamline our dealer network to ensure the best sales and service
• ensure sacrifices are shared by all GM stakeholders
• meet appropriate standards for executive pay and corporate governance
• work with our unions to quickly realize competitive wages and benefits
• reduce U.S. dependence on imported oil
• protect our environment
• pay you back the entire loan with appropriate oversight and returns

See, baby, I wrote it all down for you in a poem. Because this is how I really feel.

These actions, combined with a modest rebound of the U.S. economy, should allow us to begin repaying you in 2011.

Honest, I’ll pay you back! Starting three years from now. Maybe.

In summary, our plan is designed to provide a secure return on your investment in GM’s future. We accept the conditions of your loan, the commitments of our plan, and the results needed to transform our business for long-term success. We will contribute to strengthening U.S. energy and environmental security. We will contribute to America’s technical and manufacturing know-how and create high quality jobs for the “new economy.” And, we will continue to deliver personal mobility freedom to Americans using the most advanced transportation solutions. We are proud of our century of contribution to U.S. prosperity and look forward to making an equally meaningful contribution during our next 100 years.

Come on, baby, don’t be that way! We were meant to be together, just you and me. Forget those foreign guys, with their smooth styling, plush comfort, high gas mileage and maintenance-free reliability. We’ve been together for a long, long time. We’ve got history. You and GM, we were meant to be. Are you just going to let that end? Do you want me to go bankrupt? Is that it? Is that it? Is that what you want? Will that make you happy! I bet it would! You skanky little two-timing, import model chasing, good for nothing —

No, wait, baby! I’m sorry I lost my temper! I didn’t mean it! Please open the door. Please don’t leave me standing out here in the rain knocking on the door. No, don’t call the cops, baby! Look, just slip the money under the door and I’ll leave, okay?

******
Well, that’s my take. This isn’t so much an apology from GM as it is a ploy to emotionally manipulate America into bailing out the auto industry. One way you can tell it is not an apology: the complete absence of the words “apology” “apologize” “sorry” or even “regret” in the actual text of the GM letter. It is a psuedo-apology. They want us to think they’re sorry just long enough to sign the check.

Next time, we’ll see what others may  think.

Facebook Founder’s Apology for Implementing Big Brotheresque Features — Again!

In what is becoming at least an annual event, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg apologizes for Facebook’s ham-handed, dunderheaded implementation of a new Facebook feature that not only invades the privacy of Facebook users, but settles in for a lengthy occupation.

Last year’s apology was for rolling out the Facebook news feed … a feature that, in its full original glory, let everyone else on Facebook know everything you were doing on Facebook:

The feature, which began on Tuesday, gave users constant updates on
what their friends were doing, including when they signed others’
walls, put up photos, changed their relationship status or posted new
notes.
(Starkedny.com)

If that sounds vaguely creepy and unsettling, it was. “Stalker Feed” might have been a better name for it. Now I’m no paper-billionaire social website founder, but I could have told the Facebook guys that was a bad idea ahead of time. In fact, Facebook users did tell them, and how:

Within 3 days, 700,000 members had signed an online petition
opposing the change.
(Starkedny.com)

This led to the above-linked apology by Mark Zuckerberg in his blog, which began “

We really messed this one up. When we launched News Feed and Mini-Feed
we were trying to provide you with a stream of information about your
social world. Instead, we did a bad job of explaining what the new
features were and an even worse job of giving you control of them.
(The Facebook Blog)

Whereupon Facebook proceeded to add privacy controls, allowing users to control what items were broadcast to others in their automated news feed or to opt out of it altogether – in other words, what they should have done in the first place.

So why do I recall a year-old controversy and apology? Because in recent weeks Facebook has done the exact same thing — only worse!

To wit:

Some users of the Facebook Inc. Web site have been
startled by a new feature that tracks their activity outside of the
site and shows it to their friends — renewing questions about the
privacy implications of a growing practice of exploiting personal
information in online advertising.


The social-networking service earlier this month began
posting updates about users’ activities on Web sites outside of
Facebook and on commercial pages within Facebook — in some cases,
alongside ads from the companies behind those Web sites or pages.
Facebook is posting users’ photos alongside certain advertisements,
another feature that has alarmed some privacy advocates and users.

For instance, a user who logs on to Facebook might see
an update in a section of the site called the “news feed” noting the
movie a friend rented from an online site, along with a photo of that
friend and a movie-rental ad.
(WSJ.com)

Because maybe the reason Facebook users didn’t like the Stalker News Feed feature last year was that it wasn’t creepy and intrusive enough! Yeah, that’s it! Let’s go one better and stalk Facebookers all over the internet! They’ll love it!

Uh … no.

This time, not only did the inevitable Facebook user protest emerge, but Moveon.org took time out from protesting the war in Iraq to start a petition against the Beacon feature! Yeah … it’s that important!

The bottom line,” MoveOn spokesman Adam Green said in an interview with
CNET News.com, “is that no Facebook user should have their private
purchases online posted for the entire world to see without their
explicit opted-in permission.”
( News.com)

After mounting a weak and wobbly defense of Beacon for several weeks, Facebook eventually backed down and made it easier to opt out of Beacon — you know, what they should have done in the first place. (Though even if you opt out, Facebook continues to track you across the ubiquitous internets … they just don’t publish your doings to your friends. You might try blocking Beacon at the source.)

Which brings us to Zuckerberg’s latest apology:

Thoughts on Beacon

Mark Zuckerberg

This title reminds me of “ Deep Thoughts, by Jack Handey“. But I digress.

About a month ago, we released a new feature called Beacon to try
to help people share information with their friends about things they
do on the web.

Gee, thanks! I’ve been wondering how to help people better stalk me!

We’ve made a lot of mistakes building this feature, but
we’ve made even more with how we’ve handled them. We simply did a bad
job with this release, and I apologize for it.

Well, he did get right to the apology. And he is the CEO, addressing his customers directly in the Facebook Blog, so this at least has the appearance of a sincere and forthright apology. He even acknowledges that “we” made mistakes, not the passive voice “mistakes were made” mistake makers who often plague companies.

While I am disappointed
with our mistakes, we appreciate all the feedback we have received from
our users. I’d like to discuss what we have learned and how we have
improved Beacon.

Yeah, here’s the thing, Mark. You got pretty much the exact same feedback last year with the whole News Feed mess. So you seem to be a little slow on this “learning” thing. Hint: it has a curve. Apparently, in your case, a steep one.

When we first thought of Beacon,

… and the untold millions of advertising dollars we hope to earn by strip-mining your online activities …

our goal was to build a simple product
to let people share information across sites with their friends. It had
to be lightweight so it wouldn’t get in people’s way as they browsed
the web, but also clear enough so people would be able to easily
control what they shared.

I.e. we were kinda hoping you wouldn’t notice Big Brother shadowing your every move.

We were excited about Beacon because we
believe a lot of information people want to share isn’t on Facebook,
and if we found the right balance, Beacon would give people an easy and
controlled way to share more of that information with their friends.

Also exciting … the millions upon millions in advertising dollars mentioned above!

But we missed the right balance.

Ya think?

At first we tried to make it very
lightweight so people wouldn’t have to touch it for it to work. The
problem with our initial approach of making it an opt-out system
instead of opt-in was that if someone forgot to decline to share
something, Beacon still went ahead and shared it with their friends.

“If someone forgot to decline to share something?” Ah … yes. Very user friendly.

It
took us too long after people started contacting us to change the
product so that users had to explicitly approve what they wanted to
share. Instead of acting quickly, we took too long to decide on the
right solution. I’m not proud of the way we’ve handled this situation
and I know we can do better.

Again, why didn’t you learn this lesson last year?

Oh, right. The millions in advertising dollars. Which may have had something to do with your not acting quickly on the complaints. Because I notice it was only after advertisers started getting nervous about Beacon that you changed it.

Just saying.


Facebook has succeeded so far in part because it gives people control
over what and how they share information. This is what makes Facebook a
good utility, and in order to be a good feature, Beacon also needs to
do the same. People need to be able to explicitly choose what they
share, and they need to be able to turn Beacon off completely if they
don’t want to use it.

True.

This has been the philosophy behind our recent changes. Last week we
changed Beacon to be an opt-in system, and today we’re releasing a
privacy control to turn off Beacon completely. You can find it here.
If you select that you don’t want to share some Beacon actions or if
you turn off Beacon, then Facebook won’t store those actions even when
partners send them to Facebook.

(I told you! They still track you even if you turn it off.)

On behalf of everyone working at Facebook, I want to thank you for your
feedback on Beacon over the past several weeks and hope that this new
privacy control addresses any remaining issues we’ve heard about from
you.

Thanks for taking the time to read this.

Mark

Thanks, Mark! See you next year when you apologize for forgetting all about the valuable lessons you learned in this episode and screw up even worse by having Facebook post real-time scans of users’ brainwaves!

APOLOGY ADVICE: Australian article on significance of public apologies

The Sydney Morning Herald online has an article examining the significance of public apologies, mainly from businesses and politicians:

The calculated cost of an apology

Sorry, as Elton John reminded us, seems to be the hardest word.
It’s certainly the trickiest in politics and business.


But what’s more interesting is the noise the S-word has created.
It speaks volumes about how much accountability has changed. There
would have been a time when a simple apology, or the refusal to
give one, would not have blown up into an election issue.

 It’s a different story in an era in which former British
prime minister Tony Blair apologised to Ireland for the 19th
century potato famine and when the Catholic Church, which has
plenty to apologise for, has offered apologies all round to the
Jews, the Gypsies, victims of sexual abuse, Galileo and the
citizens of Constantinople (now Istanbul) for its sacking 800 years
ago by the knights of the Fourth Crusade.

There are two reasons for the change. First is the way news
gathering, the internet and globalisation have changed the flow of
information. Put simply, news good or bad travels a lot faster and
further. Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide.

Secondly, according to Aaron Lazare, professor of psychiatry at
the University of Massachusetts medical school, there is our
increased interdependence and fragile connectedness in today’s
global village. The increased layers and connections mean that more
people are bumping into each other. In such a crowded space, it
only heightens expectations for apologies.

The article makes some points we have made at Apology Index:

… For corporations, the apology itself is less about
contrition than it is about crisis and reputation management….

… In politics and business, the calculated apology is about the
commodification of the mea culpa….


… Done too little or too late, or making it too
obviously tactical, can be disastrous and destructive….

And offers some advice:

Public relations and strategy experts cite 10 questions CEOs
need to ask before embarking on the apology route:

1. Was the offence serious?
2. Should the CEO assume responsibility?

3. Is the cost of saying something likely to be lower than the cost
of saying nothing?

4. What function would the apology serve?
5.Who benefits?
6. Why would an apology matter (for strategic reasons, moral
reasons)?

7. What happens when the apology is made and would it placate the
injured parties and hasten resolution?

8.Will an apology create legal problems?
9. If you don’t apologise, will the problem fade?
10. Will a refusal to apologise make it worse?

As examples, it references several apologies we have covered, including recent apologies from Apple and Mattel.

Worth a read.

APOLOGY UPDATE: Mattel Apology for Chinese Toys of Death, Part II

After apologizing to the parents and children of the world for importing potentially dangerous toys manufactured in China, Mattel apologized again last week …  but this time the apology was to CHINA!

That’s right:

Mattel,
the world’s largest toy maker, apologized in China yesterday for its
recalls of nearly 20 million Chinese-made toys this summer.


According to news accounts, Thomas A. Debrowski, Mattel’s executive
vice president for worldwide operations, apologized to China for
harming the reputation of Chinese manufacturers.
( NY Times)

Mattel apologized to China for “harming the reputation of Chinese manufacturers” by recalling dangerous and defective toys made by Chinese manufacturers!

There is a word for that kind of behavior, isn’t there? A word they use in China? Can anyone think of it?

American politicians and others reacted in turn with criticism that
Mattel was kowtowing to China, where the company manufactures 65
percent of its toys, many in partnerships with Chinese vendors.

Kowtow. Yes, that’s it!

Of course, there is more to the story than that. For instance, official Chinese accounts of Mr. Debrowski’s mission vary from what Mattel itself says:

Mattel challenged the news accounts of Mr. Debrowski’s meeting in
Beijing, saying that they had mischaracterized his remarks. Mattel sent
Mr. Debrowski to the meeting to apologize to consumers in China, not to
manufacturers there, a spokeswoman said.

Mattel said in a
statement: “Since Mattel toys are sold the world over, Mattel
apologized to the Chinese today just as it has wherever its toys are
sold.”

Mr. Debrowski’s remarks were not intended to address harm
that has come to the reputation of Chinese-made products as Mattel and
other companies recalled millions of toys, the spokeswoman said.

Hmm. Well, I can see how that misunderstanding could arise. Kind of like the way official Chinese accounts of the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre differ from those of … pretty much everyone else on Earth. The Chinese government lives in its own little world.

Dangerous toys? What dangerous toys? Actually, China has a point:

In a draft of the remarks that Mr. Debrowski planned to make at the
meeting, he clarified that 17.4 million of the nearly 20 million units
recalled this summer were magnetic toys. Those toys, though produced in
China, were recalled because of a design mistake by Mattel.

“Mattel
does not hold Chinese manufacturers responsible for the design in
relation to the recalled magnet toys,” according to Mr. Debrowski’s
planned remarks, which Mattel released.

When Mattel recalled the
magnetic toys in mid-August, the company said that those recalls were
not caused by Chinese vendors, separating them from the more than 80
other styles of toys that were recalled because they were tainted with
lead paint.

See Mattel’s response and the text of Debrowski’s remarks on the Mattel website.

Mattel still relies on their Chinese vendors to manufacture their toys and no doubt will continue to do so. Presumably they also need to maintain the goodwill of the Chinese government to continue to do business there. So this “maybe an apology, maybe not” exercise was important for Mattel. The magnet toys were not in any way the fault of the Chinese vendors. As for the lead paint …

On the other side, it is to China’s advantage to receive Mattel’s apology. Months of attention to various dangerous and defective products coming out of China have damaged the country’s reputation.

BEIJING ( Reuters) – China highlighted Mattel’s apology over its recall
of huge numbers of toys on Monday to press Beijing’s claim that its
exports are generally safe and foreign politicians and media have
unfairly hyped quality scares.

According to Eric Johnson, a management professor at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth:

By emphasizing a public apology by Mattel, China gains a public relations advantage, experts said. “This is all about saving face and a private apology wouldn’t have done that for China. They really needed this public apology,” Johnson said. (Washington Post)

See also comments by Rick Newman at his Flowchart blog on USNews.com:

Mattel messed up, but now the company is bringing a welcome degree of
transparency to an issue that seems complex and murky to most of us. So
hurry up and pay attention, before the politicians and fearmongers
muddle it up.

I guess the world really is flat.

Southwest Airlines Apology to Allegedly Underdressed Passenger

Southwest Airlines truly despises their customers. Or at least seems to think that its employees should tell Southwest passengers what they can or cannot wear on their planes. Most of the television-watching world is familiar with the recent incident in which passenger Kyla Ebbert–a 23-year-old college student–was removed from a Southwest flight because some prudish nitwit of a Southwest flight attendant thought her attire (pictured below) was inappropriate.

Maybe on Saudi Air, but this is America! There is nothing wrong with thats outfit!

Here is how it played out, according to MSNBC.com:

Not according to a Southwest employee
identified only as “Keith,” who approached Ebbert after she had taken
her seat on the plane and was listening to the flight attendants go
through their pre-departure routine.

He
asked her to step off of the plane and when they were in the jetway, he
told her that her clothing was inappropriate and asked her to change
her clothes.

“He
told me, ‘I’m sorry, but you’re going to have to take a later flight.
You’re dressed inappropriately. This is a family airline. You’re
dressed too provocative to fly on this flight,’ ” she told Lauer.

“I said, ‘What part of it, the shirt, the
skirt? Which part?’ ” Ebbert continued, recounting her conversation
with Keith about her outfit. “And he said, ‘The whole thing.'” I said,
‘I didn’t bring any luggage with me. I don’t have anything to change
into. What can I do to make sure I can get onto that flight?’ I had a
doctor’s appointment. I had to be there.”

“He
said ‘You can go to the gift shop and you can buy something to wear
there. Until then, you’re not flying on this flight,’ ” Ebbert said.

A
compromise was finally reached when Ebbert promised to pull up her top,
which wasn’t showing cleavage to begin with, and pull down her tiny
skirt.

Ebbert went back onto the plane and to her seat, feeling that every eye on the plane was staring at her.

“I was humiliated. I was embarrassed. They all heard him lecturing me,” she said.

She asked for a blanket, covered her legs, and cried quietly all the
way to Tucson.

That jackass “Keith” publicly humiliated poor Kyla and made her cry. Rogue employee, right?  Automatic apology, right? Especially after Kyla shared her story on the Today show and several other media outlets, holding Southwest up to well-deserved ridicule.

Important to note — this incident happened in June, but was not publicized until a couple of weeks ago:

The Ebberts had not gone public with the story, which happened two
months ago, asking only for an apology from the airline. But none was
forthcoming.

All she wanted was an apology. All Southwest had to do was give her an apology and this would never have been a story. But noooooooo. Southwest would not apologize. Thus Ms. Ebbert launched her media blitz to shame the airline into capitulation.

Ah, you’re thinking. But maybe Southwest has a published dress code for passengers, designating allowable skirt lengths and so forth?

The newspaper on Tuesday quoted the Southwest agent it spoke with as
saying,
… We don’t have a dress code.”

Oh. Well, maybe insulting and embarrassing passengers is standard procedure for Southwest.

Apparently, yes:

The President of Southwest Airlines, Coleen Barrett, as featured
speaker at Texas Christian University, defended the actions of its
employee and she is further quoted as saying Southwest Airlines won’t
likely apologize to Kyla. She concluded by saying that Southwest
Airlines continues its culture of putting its employees first and
trusting them to make appropriate decisions as with the scenario
involving Kyla. In other words, leaving the door open to have this
happen again.
(Dr phil.com)

“Southwest: We’re Right and You’re Wrong” Yeah, I can’t wait to buy a ticket and fly with these jerks.

I’m no Harvard MBA, but isn’t is usually “putting customers first?” Maybe I have that wrong.

Anyhow, frustrated by Southwest’s mule-headed intransigence, Ms. Ebbert went on her media tour, culminating this week with an appearance on Dr. Phil. If anyone can make peace between an abusive airline and its wronged passenger, it’s Dr. Phil. Right?

Not quite. After Kyla Ebbert shared her story yet again, Dr. Phil read a statement of apology from Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly:

“From a company who really loves PR, touché to you, Kyla! Some have
said we’ve gone from wearing our famous hotpants to having hot flashes
at Southwest. Nothing could be further from the truth. As we both know,
this story has great legs, but the true issue here is that you are a
valued customer, and you did not get an adequate apology. Kyla, we
could have handled this better, and on behalf of Southwest Airlines, I
am truly sorry. We hope you continue to fly Southwest Airlines. Our
company is based on freedom, even if our actions may not have appeared
that way. It was never our intention to treat you unfairly, and again,
we apologize.”

Oh, where to begin.

First, it took over two and half months and an avalanche of bad publicity for Southwest to apologize. Point against.

The apology comes from the CEO. Point for. But he didn’t issue it in person or even send a persona letter to Ms. Ebbert. No, he apologized via the Dr. Phil show. 5 points against.

Now let’s look at the substance of the apology. It starts out by trivializing the whole situation. Now, granted, in the grand scheme of things the whole dispute is trivial. No one died or was seriously injured as a result of Southwest’s actions. But as a matter of customer service, Southwest should take this seriously. And clearly they don’t. Mr. Kelly thinks he’s funny: “we’ve gone from wearing our famous hotpants to having hot flashes.” and “this story has great legs.”

It is often a good idea to open with a joke … but not so much when you’re apologizing. If you really mean it, that is. While the rest of the statement does sound like a proper apology, the jokey opening lines drains the rest of any real meaning.  10 point against

Also, keep in mind this is being read aloud by Dr. Phil. 50 more points against.

It is not surprising that Ms. Ebbert was somewhat underwhelmed by this apology. Dr. Phil proceeds to take her to task for not being satisfied with the apology, despite having her real concerns about her arbitrary treatment treated as one big joke.

You’re kidding!” Dr. Phil exclaims. “You told me three or four minutes
ago that all you wanted was an apology. The CEO of Southwest Airlines
has personally given you an apology. Are you saying now that’s not
enough?”

Well, Dr. Phil, sorry to say this … but you’re wrong. And Ms. Ebbert was quite justified in handing back the two free tickets Southwest Airlines had you give her and saying she won’t be flying Southwest again in the future. Good for her!

You don’t think Southwest was making light of the whole incident? Take a look at this:

Southwest Airlines, under fire for reportedly threatening to toss a
female passenger off a flight because she was wearing a semi-revealing
outfit, is trying to turn the controversy to its advantage. The airline
just issued a pun-laced apology to the passenger, Kyla Ebbert, and
announced it is launching a national sale today featuring “mini-skirt”
fares.
(Orlando Sentinel)

Yeah, real sincere. Will no one give this poor woman her due? But, hark, what is this I hear? There, on the horizon! Could it be her knight in shining armor? Yes! It is! Riding to her emotional rescue is …

Sir Richard Branson!

That’s right. Fun-loving Richard Branson, owner of Virgin Airlines and soon-to-launch Virgin America dispatched one of his minions to save the day:

Dr. Phil turns to Abby, Director of Corporate Communications for Virgin
America, and notes that her airline doesn’t have a dress code for
economy or first class. … Abby gives Kyla two roundtrip tickets, and invites her to be a special
guest on Virgin America’s inaugural flight to Las Vegas on October 10.

(On the same show, Virgin America also offered round-trip tickets to a harried mother of a talkative toddler who was kicked off a Continental Airlines flight by an evil shrew of a flight attendant after the mother rebuffed the suggestion that she drug her child with “Baby Benadryl” Just for the record, Sir Richard is da man.)

Trust me, given a choice between flying Southwest and flying Virgin America, I’m going with Virgin America.

I don’t wear miniskirts (or any skirts), so I’m probably in no danger of being evicted from a flight on those grounds. But do I really want to patronize an airline that throws hot 23-year-olds in mini-skirts off their planes?

I think not.

PS: From Time: 1970s: Southwest Airlines experiences a dramatic
jump in ticket sales when its flight attendants start wearing white
go-go boots and hot pants. The airline adopts a new motto to match
(“Sex sells seats”) and begins serving in-flight drinks with names like
Passion Punch and Love Potion.