Google outage causes global standstill

Gmail, Google Drive and YouTube went down for an hour on Monday morning and it was terrifying or amazing.

the google app icon shown on an iphone screen

Monday, 14 December, 2020

Google searching

Monday morning is the perfect time for Gmail and GSuite to break down. Depending on how much you love your job you can take that seriously or as a joke.

Regardless of your job satisfaction, for anyone reliant on Gmail or Drive, at least Monday morning was interesting! Google and GSuite apps like Gmail and YouTube suffered outages which lasted around an hour.

Google and Gmail were trending on competitor Twitter all day. With people complaining or rejoicing over the outage.

TFW you can’t just Google it

The outage occurred just before midday UK time. However, Google was silent, leaving many people to justify why they weren’t responding to their boss’ emails. Luckily, Google later put out a statement to confirm the outage on Twitter (after resolving the issue).

Some users even jokingly blamed Google’s controversial new Google Suite icon design:

 

Google later put out a statement explaining it was an issue with their authentication system. For some reason the system stopped allocating storage space to the services that handle authentication. This means that the issue affects any Google products with a login system. So, pretty much everything then!

 

Services requiring users to log in experienced high error rates during this period. The authentication system issue was resolved at 4:32am PT. All services are now restored. We apologise to everyone affected, and we will conduct a thorough follow-up review to ensure this problem cannot recur in the future.

- Google statement on the service outage

Knock on effect

Some users of workplace chat service, Slack, reported being lock outs. This is because the outage also affected platforms on which users used their Gmail account to join.

But the outage didn’t just impact the workday of millions around the world. Third party services that use Google’s authentication failed for users logging into their services. For example, users of Pokemon Go reported the app locking them out as a result of the outage.

Another affected system was Google’s range of smart home devices, Google Nest. Google Nest controls lighting, temperature and other features.

The brief the outage left many people realising how reliant we are on Google. Many businesses and governments rely on independent companies like Google and Microsoft. It’s scary to think one small error within a system can leave the whole world at a standstill.

Maybe papercuts or tipex stained shirts (TBT!) are a smaller price to pay than being held for ransom by big tech?

People are sitting in the dark unable to turn on their lights controlled by Google Home, my last two meetings have been unable to use the planned slides as they are stored in Google Slides. Our dependency on technology has grown so much, but the amount spent on reliability, testing and quality hasn’t grown in parallel. Many companies will be reviewing their [agreements] with Google today and realising their business is dependent on a stack completely outside of their control.

- -Adam Leon Smith, a fellow of BCS, the Chartered Institute for IT. 
Natalie Dunning author picture

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Natalie Dunning is a freelance writer and Media Psychology researcher based in Manchester.