How to apologize – corporate edition

We’ve read a lot lately about the value of swift, full, and forthright apologies when public figures screw up. What about companies that screw up?

Blippy is a website that lets users trade updates about their consumer purchases. Recently, an obscure programming error, compounded by mistakes at Google and one small midwestern bank, allowed Google to index the credit card numbers of four or five Blippy customers, potentially exposing these numbers to people browsing the web. Co-founder & CEO Ashvin Kumar’s apology to users could serve as a model for companies that find themselves in a similar pickle. Moneyquote:

It has been a rocky weekend for Blippy. The weekend began with a front page article in the New York Times announcing our Series A financing. The elation didn’t last long. A few hours later, reports surfaced about the discovery of credit card numbers within Google’s cached search results. Our mood quickly went from elation to disbelief to disappointment. We are very sorry.

However, this is a very serious issue and simply apologizing is not enough. We’ve spent the last 48 hours working around the clock to dissect the issues, reach out to affected users, and put together a plan to ensure this never happens again.

There followed a detailed, plainspoken, 1000-word explanation of exactly what went wrong, and the steps Blippy and Google took to fix the problem. The explanation is admirably devoid of weasel words or any attempt at evading responsibility. It neither grovels nor glosses over. By treating customers with respect, it inspires reciprocal respect for the company at an awkward time.

Customers do not expect perfect products and perfect service. Their loyalty (or hostility) to a brand arises in large measure from the way a company responds to problems that inevitably arise. A willingness to listen to customers, an ethic of candor in dealings with them, and an honest determination to put things right—companies that get those three things right will enjoy excellent customer relations.

Facebook privacy defaults by year

Matt McKeon turned the Electronic Freedom Foundation’s chronology of eroding Facebook privacy settings into an interactive graphic showing how much of your FB data is visible, by default, to various categories of Internet users, by year.
You can get a sense of the problem from these screenshots, but the details emerge best in McKeon’s website.
Still plotting my escape. Hat tip: Flowing data.

What me worry about privacy? – Google

“If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know,” said Google CEO Eric Smith, “maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.”

Smith’s cavalier assessment of browser privacy issues in an MSNBC interview so incensed the main developer of the Mozilla Firefox browser that he urged Firefox users to abandon Google for a search engine with a better privacy policy, namely Bing, by Google arch-rival Microsoft:

Asa Dotzler‘s outburst raised eyebrows on the net, because the non-profit Mozilla Foundation, maker of Firefox and the Thunderbird email program, depends on Google for about 97 percent of its revenue.

Various bloggers weigh in on the dispute here. The flap has persuaded Atlantic Magazine writer (and Google fan) James Fallows to try a week-long experiment using only Bing for Internet searches.

Secret donations (cont.)

Contrarian reader Rodger Rowden disagrees:

Unless political parties are exempt from PIPEDA [the federal  Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act], there may very well be legal problems with releasing donor information.

PIPEDA is a companion to the federal Privacy Act. The latter applies only to governments and government agencies. The former applies only to “organizations that collect, use, and or disclose personal information in the course of commercial activities [contrarian emphasis].” Political parties fall into neither category. If apologists for Liberal Party and NDP pre-election secrecy are right, we should soon see prosecution of the Tories and the Greens for coming clean with voters.

Guess what? We won’t.

Secret donations (cont.)

The NDP have joined the Liberals in insisting that voters go to the poll without knowing who donated to their campaign. The party revealed the names of labour unions and corporations that gave to the campaign, but withheld the names of individuals who contributed a total of $287,013.12.

“The initial advice we received from [Chief Electoral Officer]  Christine [McCulloch] is that there were privacy concerns,” said N-dip campaign director Matt Hebb. “If she has different advice now, I will take a look at it.’

McCulloch’s press aide Dana Philip Doiron told contrarian last week that, in response to requests for an opinion, McCulloch merely told the parties they should seek their own legal counsel, because it was not appropriate for her to issue legal advice. Continue reading Secret donations (cont.)