National Edition

Press Distress

It’s a bad day at the generic office.

It could be worse. Meet 11 of tech's biggest PR meltdowns.

It seems that just about no rising startup can waltz to the top without stepping on its own toes. Be it a foot-in-mouth moment from an exec, a campaign gone wrong, or a breach of its customer base’s trust, bad PR tends to mean bad things – here are some of the biggest snafus in recent tech memory.

Off Track

From safety concerns to competitor sabotage, Uber has spent much of 2014 dodging various firestorms. But in November, when Senior Vice President Emil Michael suggested digging up dirt on critical journalists, the rideshare giant picked a fight with an unforgiving entity: the media. Michael later apologized for the remarks he believed were off the record, and remains with the company. And though Uber continues to thrive, there’s evidence that some rideshare passengers are jumping ship.

To a Scream

Whisper, meanwhile, has paid a bigger price for privacy concerns. After a Guardian report accused Whisper’s editorial team of tracking users without permission, the company put their editorial staff on leave and saw their media partnerships with Buzzfeed, the Huffington Post, and Fusion suspended – though Whisper CEO Michael Hayward continues to refute the Guardian’s report.

Disappearing Act

Snapchat also knows a thing or two about (a lack of) privacy. In the wake of the now infamous ”Snappening”, in which 98,000 supposedly private images were leaked online, the company promised to crack down on third-party apps. That’s not the only fire Snapchat has had to put out this year – CEO Evan Spiegel issued a statement saying he was “mortified” by a series of unsavory emails ValleyWag dug up from his Stanford frat days.

Bro No

Whereas Snapchat’s Spiegel got back to work after issuing his public apology, several tech execs have faced far greater consequences for their bro-downs. When former Business Insider CTO Pax Dickinson’s history of racist, sexist, and patently offensive tweets came to light last September, he was promptly let go. Former RapGenius co-founder Mahbod Moghadam suffered the same fate after making light of the UCSB mass shootings in an annotation of Elliot Rodger’s manifesto.

And in the gentrification battlefield of San Francisco, a handful of tech execs have done little to improve relations with their new neighbors. In October, Dropbox issued an apologetic statement after some employees tried to take over a local soccer field. Former AngelHack CEO Greg Gopman proposed class-based segregation, prompting his severance from the company. He was later sued. Celery founder Peter Shih faced wide-scale backlash for his anti-San Francisco blog post, but he remains with the company, which received a $2 million in capital earlier this year.

Bad Ads

Marketing and advertising campaigns that backfire are not exclusive to the tech industry – but it sure has produced some doozies. Back in 2006, Sony’s PSP White campaign drew some serious scorn for being racist, and the company later pulled the ad. Groupon’s disastrous Super Bowl ad was criticized for making light of Tibetan suffering, prompting then-CEO Andrew Mason to play defense. And earlier this year, Apple learned that giving isn’t always good after the general public rejected the new U2 album it automatically downloaded onto iTunes accounts. Bono said sorry.

Now go forth (and don’t mess up).

*Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Celery received a $2 million valuation. In fact, Celery raised $2 million in capital.


More Posts