For about an hour yesterday morning, Google blacklisted the entire Internet. Or, if I read their blog right, any URL with "/" in it. That's about as inclusive as it gets.
As the HAL 9000 computer on Discovery said, "It can only be attributable to human error."
From the Google Blog:
" "This site may harm your computer" on every search result?!?!"
Official Google Blog (January 31, 2009)
"If you did a Google search between 6:30 a.m. PST and 7:25 a.m. PST this morning, you likely saw that the message "This site may harm your computer" accompanied each and every search result. This was clearly an error, and we are very sorry for the inconvenience caused to our users.
"What happened? Very simply, human error. Google flags search results with the message 'This site may harm your computer' if the site is known to install malicious software in the background or...."
The good news is that any one user only got the "This site may harm your computer" messages for about 40 minutes.
The bad news is that this isn't the sort of publicity Google would want, with it's new "GDrive" coming out. (""Cloud Computing?" Sounds Familiar " (January 26, 2009))
From the StopBadware.org Blog (Google's blog post links to this):
"Google glitch causes confusion"
The StopBadware Blog (January 31,2 2009)
"This morning, an apparent glitch at Google caused nearly every [update 11:44 am] search listing to carry the 'Warning! This site may harm your computer' message. Users who attempted to click through the results saw the "interstitial" warning page that mentions the possibility of badware and refers people to StopBadware.org for more information. This led to a denial of service of our website, as millions of Google users attempted to visit our site for more information. We are working now to bring the site back up. We are also awaiting word from Google about what happened to cause the false warnings.
"[Update 12:31] Google has posted an update on their official blog that erroneously states that Google gets its list of URLs from us. This is not accurate. Google generates its own list of badware URLs, and no data that we generate is supposed to affect the warnings in Google's search listings. We are attempting to work with Google to clarify their statement.
"[Update 12:41] Google is working on an updated statement. Meanwhile, to clarify some false press reports, it does not appear to be the case that Google has taken down the warnings for legitimately bad sites...."
And there are more updates.
StopBadware.org is a non-profit, run by people from Harvard, AOL, and other organizations. Their 'about us' page is, I think, worth looking over: "About StopBadware."
Google's Big Mistake: Lessons to be LearnedFrom the sounds of it, Google's bosses know that something went wrong, and want to learn from it:
"...'We will carefully investigate this incident and put more robust file checks in to prevent it from happening again,' said Marissa Mayer, vice president of search products and user experience, in the statement." (AP)
Sounds reasonable to me. It's in Google's best interests to make sure that this doesn't happen again. I'm sure they'd like to make sure that something like this never happens again - but given the nature of the universe, glitches will happen.
The trick is not to let the same glitch happen twice.
News and views:
- "Google says whole web may be harmful -- for 40 minutes"
Technology Blog, guardian.co.uk (January 31, 2009)
- "What if Google decided YOU were 'malware'?"
Computerworld (January 31, 2009)
- "Google users get bogus warning on site searches"
The Associated Press (January 31, 2009)
- "Human error caused Google search bug"
Network World (January 31, 2009)
- "Any sufficiently advanced information is indistinguishable from noise"
Rupert Goodwins, ZDNet.co.uk (January 31, 2009)