Former Yahoo chief executive Marissa Mayer performed one final task for her former company on the way out the door: play punching bag for Congress. The now-former CEO had to sit through a blistering Congressional grilling related to the massive security breach that compromised about three billion user accounts. The term “largest breach in history” ensured that Congress was not going to take it easy on Mayer, and, in fact, they did not.
Fittingly, Mayer began her testimony with an apology, “As CEO, these thefts occurred during my tenure, and I want to sincerely apologize to each and every one of our users…”
The apology was as symbolic as it gets. Mayer is no longer with the company, likely won’t face any further consequences, and really wasn’t directly in workflow that created the possibility of the breach. But, as the boss … well, former boss … she was the public face Yahoo chose to sacrifice, the public relations martyr.
It’s a tough situation for Mayer because she is taking on all the responsibility for the security failure in a very public setting. Yes, that’s part of the gig when you’re in the top spot, but she’s not, at least not anymore. And some of the decisions she was asked about happened after her watch had ended. Another company leader could have been there to testify as to what happened, why it happened and, most importantly, why it won’t happen again.
That last bit is what’s really most important to consumers. They want to know two things: were they compromised, and, are they still in trouble? Mayer can explain the first part, but she’s not the most reliable source on the latter, simply because she’s no longer with the company. That’s not to say the public didn’t relish seeing Mayer sitting in the hot seat. For many, it’s not that Yahoo was subject to a breach, but that the company did not really disclose the nature or extent of the breach for about three years. And then, when it finally did announce the breach, the company reported only one-third the actual number of accounts compromised.
It took Verizon buying Yahoo and researching the issue for the truth to finally come out. That delay and less than “accurate” rendition of facts became a central theme of the inquiry. Mayer deflected these questions, saying the real numbers came out after she was gone from Yahoo. Many doubted that on its face. But, if true, that brings us back to the question: why is Mayer the one answering that question?
Whatever the answer to that might be, one thing is certain, nothing in the inquiry or in Mayer’s answers to the questions restored the tattered consumer faith in Yahoo’s properties. That long journey has yet to begin.
About the Author: Ronn Torossian is CEO of 5WPR.