In recent years, tech industry PR has been on a roller coaster. From Facebook and Microsoft doing great things to the ongoing reputation for sexism and sexual harassment that has permeated Silicon Valley’s public relations, no matter what else the industry or region does to make our modern world better and easier. Here are a few examples of some of the most egregious recent PR disasters in the tech sector.
Yahoo hacks off customers
You never – ever – want your brand connected with the “worst” anything “of all time,” and yet that’s exactly where Yahoo found itself after suffering the “biggest cybersecurity breach of all time.” But it wasn’t the breach that created the biggest PR crisis for Yahoo. Sure, huge numbers of customers and prospective customers were appalled. But Yahoo made it worse on themselves because they tried to cover up the breach. It would be two years before the hack was disclosed publicly.
Not only was that fact a major breach of trust, Yahoo’s decision to hold off telling anyone meant the news only came out when Yahoo was in the middle of an acquisition deal with Verizon. That revelation allowed Verizon to get Yahoo for a relative song, saving about $350 million due to the unknown negative potential attached to the newly-disclosed breach.
Oculus is not so “Luckey”
Sometimes in business, if you have a political opinion, you may want to keep it to yourself. And, if you don’t plan to, at least you should consider the consequences before you pull the trigger. This is a lesson Oculus founder Palmer Luckey learned the hard way. During the Presidential campaign, Luckey was “outed” for donating to a group that specialized in making derogatory memes about one of the leading candidates.
Asked about it at the time, Luckey was flippant, telling The Daily Beast, “I’ve got plenty of money… I thought it sounded like a real jolly good time.”
Luckey soon found out that most of his colleagues and a good number of his customers did not appreciate his rabble rousing political activity. In a follow-up statement to the media, Luckey was apologetic, though he flatly denied some of the initial report’s allegations. He added that he didn’t even plan to vote for the candidate his donation indirectly supported. He was planning to vote third party.
Decidedly less than thrilled, Oculus essentially left Luckey out of its annual developer conference … and his public footprint has been much smaller recently.
Thiel ruffles feathers in tech industry
PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel was revealed to be the agent financing the lawsuits attacking Gawker, legal cases that eventually pushed the gossip site to close. In a time when Silicon Valley was desperately trying to get some distance between their industry and any headlines with the word “sex” in them, Thiel earned headlines with “sex” and “video” and “Hulk Hogan.” This combination guaranteed headlines that transcended multiple news cycles. And none of them were good, for Thiel or for the industry.
Microsoft robot celebrates Hitler
In one of the most bizarre and troubling headlines in recent time, Microsoft’s Tay artificial intelligence experiment went very, very wrong. Tay was built to be able to pick up on slang and learn how to communicate with colloquial expressions. Then Tay was hooked into Twitter. In less than a day, Tay was tweeting out horrific racial commentary praising Hitler, denouncing feminists and generally being incredibly profane and offensive. Embarrassed, Microsoft pulled the plug on Tay the next day.
Ronn Torossian is the founder and CEO of 5WPR and one of the most well-respected Public Relations professionals in the United States.