If Facebook is the sinner, who does it think is absolving it and making with the Hail Marys?
Uber-nerd Grace Hopper nailed it: It's easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission.
But note, they're only apologizing for "the way the paper described our research" and the concern caused by that description - not for actually experimenting with human beings without consent. "We're sorry you're offended".
And then there's the "Oh, I'm sorry, did I break your concentration?" kind of apology which legitimately expresses contrition, but at an expense the aggrieved would probably rather forego.
"we're sorry, the number you have called is no longer in service"
"Well, this is embarassing- Firefox is having trouble...."
Every time I get this kind of message, I have to wonder whose soul is feeling the emotions mentioned. If such things mean anything at all, I suppose it's really the user - me - that is sorry that I'm forced to use a broken setup. It's not like these messages actually cost anything to emit. Which is exactly the difference between these and the sincere version.
I guess if businesses can be said to have religious beliefs, they can also be said to have feelings of regret as they cry their way to the bank. And boy howdy, am I sorry about that!
"Please, we're really sorry, we promise we can change. Don't leave us; it'd ruin us if you did, and think how much fun you'd be missing. We love you, really we do..."
That's the funny thing about abusive relationships; even if you're well aware that you're in one, and you know that no matter how many 'second chances' you give them they will continue to abuse your trust, and you truly believe that you deserve better, it's still difficult to break away from them.
I'm sorry, but the number I have just smoked is no longer in service...
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