Google glitch: a wake-up call?


2 Feb 2009

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For many people, the Google homepage is the first port of call and window to the wider world of the internet. In fact, for many, Google IS the internet, so when a misplaced ‘/’ in coding caused the search engine to label every single link in search requests as possible malware on Saturday, we soon realised how dominant Google really is.

The warning declaring ‘This site may harm your computer’ for every site on the internet was, in fact, due to website StopBadware.org misinterpreting the error in coding.

StopBadware.org is a non-for-profit organisation that partners with Google, as well as other companies and academic institutes, to help detect malware threats to internet users.

In the grand scheme of things, this error occurred for under one hour and was pinpointed and fixed rapidly by Google, with an explanation for what went wrong posted on the official blog soon thereafter.

“What happened? Very simply, human error,” said Marissa Mayer, VP, Search Products & User Experience, Google.

“Fortunately, our on-call site reliability team found the problem quickly and reverted the file.”

What this glitch did for us was not so much cause inconvenience as act as a dry run for what would really happen if Google seriously malfunctioned.

It made us realise our dependence on Google, as well as the security risks posed by the dominance of just one service.

In the software world, the Windows operating system is dominant, and as such is a target for viruses and malware.

As we move increasingly from software to webware and services in the cloud, we need to know that we can trust our providers, but we also need to work out if it is ideal to have our email, documents and all private data held with a bunch of free services from one provider.

If most web users kick off with Google to find everything, does this influence where purveyors of goods and services advertise and list? Are we tied to Google?

“E-commerce sites that rely on user searches for a particular product to buy heavily rely on the [Google] search engine being online and directing customers to their products. Just how bad is our reliance on the search engine company?,” asks Wesley Roberts on Techfragments.com.

By Marie Boran

Pictured: Google throws a hissy fit at the weekend

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