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Apple's battery mea culpa joins rapidly growing list of corporate apologies

Ari Levy

Following an uproar over recent reports that Apple (AAPL) slows down older iPhones, the company released a 766-word statement on Thursday, apologizing to its customers. Apple said it would never "intentionally shorten the life of any product," but acknowledged that users of earlier generations of phones could experience longer launch times for apps and other performance reductions to improve power management. "We apologize," the company said. "There's been a lot of misunderstanding about this issue, so we would like to clarify and let you know about some changes we're making." Apple said it is slashing $50 off the out-of-warranty iPhone battery replacement for the next year, bringing the cost down to $29 for anyone with an iPhone 6, or any newer model, starting in late January. And a software update that will hit early next year will give users more insight into battery life. As the most valuable company in the world, with a market capitalization of $898 billion (which fell to $872 billion after Friday's market open), any kerfuffle involving Apple's flagship product is a big deal. But as far as business scandals requiring formal apologies go, other companies have had it much worse. Here are some of the most notable corporate regrets of the year and some really big ones from years past, listed in reverse chronological order.

Uber, Nov. 2017 Whistleblowers had revealed sexual harassment within Uber's ranks. Alphabet's Waymo was suing Uber over intellectual property theft. And investors had forced co-founder Travis Kalanick to resign as CEO. Following all that chaos, the company announced last month that hackers had stolen the personal data of 57 million Uber users, including hundreds of thousands of drivers in the U.S. The breach happened in October 2016, and Uber had paid the hacker $100,000 to destroy the wrongfully attained data. CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, Kalanick's successor, apologized. "None of this should have happened, and I will not make excuses for it," he said. "While I can't erase the past, I can commit on behalf of every Uber employee that we will learn from our mistakes. We are changing the way we do business, putting integrity at the core of every decision we make and working hard to earn the trust of our customers." Yahoo, Nov. 2017 Oath, Yahoo's new owner, said a 2013 data breach impacted all 3 billion user accounts, not 1 billion, as the company had said earlier. Marissa Mayer , Yahoo's former CEO, offered an apology in prepared testimony before the U.S. Senate. "First and foremost, I want to reiterate how sorry I am for these incidents," she said. "We worked hard over the years to earn our users' trust, and we fought hard to preserve it. As CEO, these thefts occurred during my tenure, and I want to sincerely apologize to each and every one of our users." Equifax, Oct. 2017 The credit reporting company, in September, announced a data breach affecting up to 143 million U.S. consumers. Ex-CEO Richard Smith, who retired after the hack, testified before the U.S. House of Representatives and apologized for his role in the matter. "As CEO I was ultimately responsible for what happened on my watch," Smith said. "Equifax was entrusted with Americans' private data and we let them down. To each and every person affected by this breach, I am deeply sorry that this occurred." Dove, Oct. 2017 The personal care brand, owned by Unilever (London Stock Exchange: ULVR-GB), publicly expressed its regrets for a Facebook campaign that depicted women taking off their shirts to reveal a woman of a different race. That followed an earlier campaign in May, in which the brand promoted custom bottles that were intended to celebrate the diversity of body shapes, but became the butt of jokes on Twitter. Following the ad in October, Dove posted the following tweet: Facebook, Sept. 2017 Facebook (FB) had been under fire for spreading fake news, hate speech and allowing Russian-linked groups to run political ads ahead of the U.S. presidential election. Facing increased scrutiny and unable to deny some of Facebook's ongoing problems, CEO Mark Zuckerberg published a general apology on Sept. 30, which marked Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of atonement. "For those I hurt this year, I ask forgiveness and I will try to be better," Zuckerberg wrote on his Facebook wall. "For the ways my work was used to divide people rather than bring us together, I ask forgiveness." It wasn't the first, nor would it be the last, time that Facebook and its executives would apologize. Just two weeks later, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg apologized for the company's inability to stop Russian-linked ads from interfering with and influencing the 2016 election. "Things happened on our platform that shouldn't have happened," Sandberg told Axios.

United Airlines, April 2017 After a doctor, who refused to give up his seat, was dragged off an overbooked flight headed from Chicago to Louisville, Kentucky, a video of the incident went viral. David Dao, the passenger, was treated for injuries and United Airlines (UAL) was pushed to apologize . "The truly horrific event that occurred on this flight has elicited many responses from all of us: outrage, anger, disappointment," CEO Oscar Munoz said in a statement. "I share all of those sentiments, and one above all: my deepest apologies for what happened. Like you, I continue to be disturbed by what happened on this flight and I deeply apologize to the customer forcibly removed and to all the customers aboard. No one should ever be mistreated this way." Volkswagen, Sept. 2015 After years of promoting its "clean diesel" vehicles, Volkswagen (XETRA:VOW3-DE) was found to be skirting emissions tests with "defeat devices" that allowed cars to pass tests in labs, while going on to spew pollution on the road. In addition to the environmental impact, car owners and dealers couldn't sell off "Dieselgate" vehicles. CEO Martin Winterkorn issued a video apology, in German, as the company came under intense regulatory scrutiny in the U.S. Here's part of the translated statement: "Ladies and gentlemen, many millions of people around the world trust our brands, our cars and our technologies. I am endlessly sorry that we disappointed this trust. I apologize sincerely to our customers and the regulatory agencies and the public for the misbehavior. Please believe me that we will do everything to undo the damage that was done. And we will do everything to win back your trust step by step." Winterkorn was forced to resign within weeks of his apology. Several employees were convicted in the U.S. for involvement in the decadeslong emissions scandal.

Google, July 2015 The internet giant apologized after a user of the Google Photos app observed that some photos of himself and another person were put into an automatically generated album entitled "Gorillas." "We're appalled and genuinely sorry that this happened," a Google spokesperson told USA Today. "We are taking immediate action to prevent this type of result from appearing. There is still clearly a lot of work to do with automatic image labeling, and we're looking at how we can prevent these types of mistakes from happening in the future." Netflix, Sept. 2011 Netflix (NFLX) faced a huge investor and customer backlash after announcing a price hike and plans to split its streaming and DVD-rental businesses into two brands. Qwikster would be the name of the mail-order unit. CEO Reed Hastings backtracked and apologized for the way he handled customer communications. Netflix lost 2 million subscribers and its stock dropped by 75 percent. "I messed up, I owe everyone an explanation," Hastings wrote in a letter. "I slid into arrogance based upon past success." He went on to say that he "should have personally given a full justification to our members of why we are separating DVD and streaming, and charging for both." Hastings has long since been forgiven. The stock is up 21-fold in the past six years.

Johnson & Johnson, Sept. 2010 The pharmaceutical company was hit with numerous recalls in 2009 and 2010 related to nonprescription medications, including Tylenol, Benadryl and Motrin. One recall was for bacteria contamination, another for mildew-like odor and yet another for contamination of Children's Tylenol. "I know that we let the public down," former Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) CEO William Weldon told the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. "We did not maintain our high-quality standards. Children do not have access to our important medicines. I accept full accountability for the problems, and I will take full accountability for fixing them." BP, June 2010 In April 2010, an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico killed 11 people and caused more than 4 million barrels of oil to shoot out of the well one mile below the surface of the ocean. The oil spilled for 87 days and decimated much of the Gulf Coast's tourist economy. Tony Hayward, who was CEO at the time, apologized in late May of that year for the ordeal but created controversy by implying he too was a victim. "I'd like my life back," Hayward said in a TV interview. Days later, he apologized for the apology. "I apologize, especially to the families of the 11 men who lost their lives in this tragic accident," he wrote on Facebook. "Those words don't represent how I feel about this tragedy." Goldman Sachs, Nov. 2009 The financial crisis featured plenty of blame to go around. As financial stocks were recovering in late 2009, while much of the country was still feeling the pain of the recession, Goldman Sachs (GS) CEO Lloyd Blankfein publicly apologized for his bank's role in issuing cheap and easy credit. He pledged $500 million over five years to help small businesses recover. "We participated in things that were clearly wrong and have reason to regret," Blankfein said at a conference in New York, "We apologize." -- CNBC's Anita Balakrishnan contributed to this report.

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