Internet users worldwide received a harrowing reminder on Monday of how dependent they are on Google when the Silicon Valley giant suffered a major outage for about an hour and took many of its most popular services offline.
At a time when more people than ever are working from home due to the pandemic, Google services like Calendar, Gmail, Hangouts, Maps, Meet and YouTube crashed, halting productivity and sending disgruntled users to Twitter, to inform about the loss of services. Students struggled to register in virtual classrooms.
Google has published the failures in a status dashboard, in which information about the various services is exchanged. Downdetector, an internet outage tracking website, also showed that Google was offline. The Google search engine continued to work for some people.
But then, about an hour after the outages began, the services started working again.
It was not immediately clear how many users were affected by the outage, which began between 6:30 a.m. and 7:00 a.m. Eastern. Several Google products have more than a billion users worldwide, including Android, Chrome, Gmail, Google Drive, Google Maps, Google Play, Search, and YouTube.
“We apologize for the inconvenience and thank you for your patience and continued support,” said Google on its website. “Rest assured that system reliability is a top priority at Google. We are continuously improving to make our systems better.”
A Google spokesman had no immediate comment.
Product failures used to be quite common for growing internet companies. However, as Google, Facebook, and other companies keep getting bigger and building complex networks of interconnected data centers around the world, incidents have become less common. Google has privately funded submarine cables to move data between continents and improve performance should problems arise in a particular location.
System reliability is becoming increasingly important as people and businesses depend on the services to search for information online, find directions, send emails, or access private documents stored on Google’s servers.
During the lockdown, schools relied on Google services to educate students who are forced to stay home. “At least we have an excuse for not doing our homework,” wrote one person on Twitter.
The incident will likely feed those who say the biggest tech companies have gotten too powerful and deserve more control. In the United States, Google and Facebook are facing antitrust lawsuits. New regulations will be introduced in the European Union on Tuesday to curb the power of the industry.
William Dixon, a cybersecurity expert at the World Economic Forum, said that while it was too early to say what caused the outage, it had highlighted the fragility of the world’s digital networks.
“What you have is a smaller and smaller number of systemic technology vendors,” said Dixon, who previously worked for the UK government on cybersecurity issues. “If there’s a problem, the cascades of it are pretty significant.”