This probably won't surprise long time readers, but I've given lots of thought to apologies.
To my mind, there are a couple things in an apology. An acknowledgement that what happened isn't normal. Compassion for someone who you hurt. And, when it's possible, a commitment to avoid letting it happen again.
I think it's hardly necessary to say things like "don't lie or embellish", and I'm not even entirely sure I could enumerate all the terrible things you can do during an apology. The list isn't that different than normal failures – don't be selfish during an apology, don't be cowardly, don't be proud.
But perhaps the most important mistake, one that doesn't pop up anywhere else is, be extremely clear about what commitment you're making, particularly if you aren't making one. This is rough, so let's imagine an example.
You run a service for other businesses. Because the world is inscrutable, you could have small things go wrong and have no one notice for years, not you, not your customers, it didn't matter to anyone. And then boom, one day your mistake costs someone. Something wasn't available at the exact right second, and because they relied on you, their plans got messed up.
Now, mistakes are inevitable. So after you say you're sorry, that the service didn't work how it should have, that they're in a bind and it sucks, be as specific as possible. The problem (hopefully) is already fixed or will be soon. And you'll add in additional checks to avoid it happening in the future. But it's also your responsibility, as the party that made the mistake, to be clear about what can be expected of you in the future. If mistakes are inevitable, say so. Tell them not to plan on your perfection, if that isn't something they can do.
Quite a bit of this was inspired by the psychopaths (an inference based on the disclosed facts of the article) at Uber who seem to need millions of data points to be human. Obviously, I'm joking, they aren't psychopaths. They're subordinates that need to demonstrate the ROI for being honest. And the honest thing to do is, not to really apologize when it's just words.
But I wonder about what charmed lives the executives lead, that they've never had a trust they place fail them, never knew the numb hurt of repeated, remorseful failures. They also seemed unusually fine with an almost legalese apology, not promising to improve because of their failure, just, hey, this is what we do for a living. Deeply strange. I wonder if they've ever confronted someone else in anger about a failed trust, and had that person say, "technically, I just said I was working on it, I didn't say I was bothered by screwing up your day, and I didn't say I would do better for you" and had them feel better. It's such an odd thing to try.
My suspicion is that the economist got upset about Uber's failure, and got more upset when nothing in the system even acknowledged how it messed up. Dude works at Uber and said he'd never use Uber ever again. That's some real steam. Dude told the founder of the company, his boss, he'd never use it again. It got heated.
I've been lucky enough to not need any specific job so badly that I'd stick around once I got that pissed off and noticed the reason I didn't get an apology was because no one cared. But that was the situation this guy was in. And I guess he put it to good use, using data to demonstrate insincere promises backfire.
There are stupider things people spend time researching.