There were no Friday night beers for Google last week as it battled with major outage of its Gmail email service.
According to Techcrunch, the outage affected users in Europe, the US, Canada and India, for around 50 minutes. It said that the error being seen by most users was a (500) code problem, indicating that it was a temporary problem.
Google called it a “disruption” in its Gmail service, according to the Apps Status Dashboard, and after approximately 20 minutes the service briefly came back online for most users, but then went down again. After just under an hour, it once again seemed to be restored and stable for users previously complaining about connectivity.
Plenty of things can cause an outage, and sometimes I wonder if a systems administrator has tripped over a cable, but in this case Google’s situation could have been worse as it managed to contain its problem to only a few applications – Google+ and YouTube were also reportedly affected.
Reports circulated following the outage that a poor Hotmail user called Daniel Peck ended up bearing the brunt of the outage as a bug caused his email address to appear in the compose window that pops up when the top search result for Gmail is clicked.
Peck told Techcrunch that he received thousands of emails, the majority of which were blank. “I’ve been getting thousands of no-subject, blank emails. 500 of them come every hour, I can’t stop them,” he said.
A Google spokesperson said: “Due to a technical glitch, some email addresses on public webpages appeared too prominently in search results. We’ve fixed the issue and are sorry for any inconvenience caused”, and confirmed that the glitch was not related to the Gmail outage.
Now, in times of failure it does not pay to point and laugh, because you never know when it will happen to you and you will need your friends close. In this case, search and webmail rival Yahoo was not especially scathing, but it didn’t make the greatest effort with a tweet saying “Gmail is temporarily unavailable” with an image of Google’s “Temporary Error (500)” page.
Many people would have likely taken no notice of this, except I was one of those who became aware due to Yahoo’s apology that said the tweet “reflected bad judgment was posted and has been deleted” and apologised to Google and the Gmail team.
In other Google news, a privacy flaw was revealed that displayed email addresses without the consent of the user. Upon creating an event, and putting a Gmail address in the subject line, that user will have the event added to their calendar, will not receive an email notification but will get a “meeting reminder” pop-up. When you delete a calendar item, the “Cancellation” notification is emailed regardless of whether the user received the original invite.
In other words, if you entered a phone number into the invitation the recipient would receive it, or if you put something derogatory about the person, they would see that too. I talked to some penetration testers who agreed that the security element was minimal, but there could be privacy issues.
Google seemed to agree, telling Terence Eden (who disc
overed the flaw) that after “careful consideration by our security team, we feel that the issue has minimal impact on the security of our users”. After press interest of the flaw, Google later agreed that the behaviour “is undesirable” and it had filed a bug with the Calendar team.
Nice to see some action, although Eden seemed slightly aggrieved at the lack of a bug bounty! Perhaps it takes a little online action to stimulate change, but this is a series of events that Google will want to learn from and avoid in future. Maybe the future is in artificial intelligence, as its £242 million acquisition demonstrates. Can machines fix such issues?