Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel could learn a huge lesson from another startup run by a few 20-somethings.
How to apologise.
This weekend, Rap Genius, a website that annotates lyrics of songs to help you understand them better, apologized for the methods it used to game Google searches so its site appeared higher in results. The site got caught gaming the system about two weeks ago, and Google decided to punish it by effectively unlisting Rap Genius from search results. Its traffic tanked.
In a lengthy post on its company blog, Rap Genius came clean about how it was gaming Google and how it fixed the problem. Google now lists Rap Genius in search results again.
Rap Genius also apologized to its users:
To Google and our fans: we’re sorry for being such morons. We regret our foray into irrelevant unnatural linking. We’re focused on building the best site in the world for understanding lyrics, poetry, and prose and watching it naturally rise to the top of the search results.
Let’s put this in perspective.
The Rap Genius Google game didn’t hurt anyone but Rap Genius. The site may have lost precious traffic, its lifeblood, but its users felt no negative effects. No personal data was leaked. No money was stolen. Yet the company sucked it up, took responsibility for its actions, and apologized anyway.
It’s a different story with Snapchat. This week, 4.6 million phone numbers belonging to Snapchat users leaked publicly online. This, after a security research group warned Snapchat about a hole in the app that could allow such a hack. Snapchat did next to nothing to plug the hole though.
When Snapchat finally commented on the leak, it only explained how it happened. It did not apologise for ruining the reasonable expectation that any personal information users give to Snapchat would remain private. It didn’t explain how it would plug the hole. It didn’t even say it takes user privacy seriously.
As I wrote yesterday, Snapchat owes all its users an apology. We pay Snapchat with something that’s arguably more valuable than money — our personal information. By giving Snapchat your phone number, you make it easier to find new people on the service to share with. Snapchat gets a way to grow its user base, something that’s immensely valuable to the company. In fact, it’s the biggest reason why the startup is worth billions.
But Snapchat still hasn’t apologized for breaching its users’ trust. I’ve emailed Spiegel and his PR boss Mary Ritti several times over the last few days asking if they plan to apologise or if there’s a security fix coming for the Snapchat app. No response.
If the Rap Genius founders can apologise for gaming Google, a tactic that hurt no one, why can’t Snapchat apologise for letting 4.6 million phone numbers leak?