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Monday, February 2, 2009

How Google Broke the Internet!

Posted by @ 12:12 am

Just this past weekend in the space of 1 hour, Google managed to stop all sites being accessed via its search engine.

This occurred at about 6.30am PST on Saturday, so if you were one of the unfortunate ones to trying to search this early, then you will know what I am talking about.

During this period all search results in Google were being flagged as malware with a message stating “This site may harm your computer”. Including Google’s own websites as you can see below.

If you tried to click on the link it sent you to the following page:

How did this error occur?
Google explains that human error was the reason a malware update was applied to all sites:
We periodically receive updates to that list and received one such update to release on the site this morning. Unfortunately (and here’s the human error), the URL of ‘/’ was mistakenly checked in as a value to the file and ‘/’ expands to all URLs. Fortunately, our on-call site reliability team found the problem quickly and reverted the file. Since we push these updates in a staggered and rolling fashion, the errors began appearing between 6:27 a.m. and 6:40 a.m. and began disappearing between 7:10 and 7:25 a.m., so the duration of the problem for any particular user was approximately 40 minutes.

How much would this error have cost Google?
Danny Sullivan from Search Engine Land tells us his theory:
There’s no way to know. Google had 5.7 billion in revenue last quarter, which works out to about $2.6 million per hour, if I’m doing the math right. Since it was down for about an hour, that might serve as a top-level amount that could have been lost. But then you have to figure that Saturday morning Pacific time is much quieter than other times (yes, that’s still prime time for Europe and parts of the US, of course). The quarterly revenue also includes ALL Google revenue, not just search ads. And people might actually click MORE on ads due to the malware warnings on the unpaid results. Like I said, there’s really no way to know. I’m sure Google probably took some revenue hit, but I suspect it was far less than $2.6 million. Sites listed on Google also would have taken some minor dip in traffic. And Google’s competitors probably saw an uptake in traffic. There’s a good strategy for them – hope Google shoots itself in the foot more often.

What effect did this error have on your site’s traffic? Feel free to let us know by leaving a comment below.

Courtney Mills Courtney is an online marketing and communications specialist at ineedhits - a leading search engine marketing firm with over 16 years experience. Courtney has been living and breathing online marketing for over 5 years. She specializes in web and communication marketing, while providing news and opinion to online marketing communities.

View Courtney Mills's profile

Discussion (21 - comments)

Great article Courtney.. I was online when this happened, I’ve today been checking the search results for our site Makita Tools and we experienced a dip of about 30% over the entire day when compared to a “typical” saturday. When we delved deeper into our logs we found that we were significantly down on traffic between 8am and 10.30am Saturday morning whilst we were actually up on traffic for the rest of the day! Thanks to your article and our analytics tool we were able to put this dip down to the Google glitch.


By jonathandawson - February 2, 2009

I tracked 6 sites, all located and appealing to visitors in the US. I saw only a normal trend, where the sites tracked have a 10% to 15% uptick on Saturday, vs Friday or Sunday. Probably because of the less-than-prime time here in the US, I didn’t see any difference.

By George Snell - February 2, 2009

Well – that’s a relief – my wife has been asking me to look at her computer since her internet got “broken” over the weekend. This just saved me a chore!

By Gary Bailey - February 3, 2009

Adword campaigns were still working and clickable so maybe Google saw an increase on revenue as naturally ranked sites were flaged as malicious?

By Nick G - February 3, 2009

I received a phone call from a previous customer who indicated that there was a problem with my site Velux skylights we confirmed the problem and contacted our webmaster to see if anything had been changed recently. All in all we probably did not loose any business, but did waste time and money.

By ken - February 3, 2009

I had faced same issue but due to this Google has removed my PR of more than 7 of my sites which were 1 to 5 years old, even after the issue was resolved, i had nothing at gain as PR was lost, writing or or was also lost. Till date and time i’m at lost it hampered my business, my daily earning is lost till time and not sure when i will have the all misdeed done by Google and its teams returned backed to me by Google and its teams

By Anonymous - February 3, 2009

I suffered from the problem, googling Saturday afternoon (UK) it said everything I was looking for was Malware. I just changed to Yahoo which worked perfectly!

And for my own online store we had more sales last Saturday then we did for any Saturday for the previous last six months, so it certainly didn’t effect out business.

By Robert Cooper - February 3, 2009

It’s look so strange for me because of such errors. However due to my unknown technically, so such an error does not make me think bad but awaiting patiently. But I think now everything has come to normal condition. I can access to the Google products easily.


A. Murtadho

email :
Website :

By Ciledugbased-15152 - February 3, 2009

One thing that you didn’t note was reputation loss. I would wonder for those people that saw the message, how many of them may be concerned about the various sites that were flagged.

I presume it would be quite small, if all results for every search were flagged, most people would realize something goofy was going on. What are your thoughts?

By CD Rates Blog - February 3, 2009

Personally, I was rather pleased, as the by-product for me was discovering a fantastic new search-engine (totally 'cutting edge')! Try it & see the difference it makes:
Has already saved me hours of unnecessary trawling time.

By Anonymous - February 3, 2009

From Antique Hardware at RobinsonsAntiques . com. Saturday was one of our better days last week. We are not a paid Google advertiser. We simply have a huge stock of original antique Hardware for people that are searching for missing hardware.
With so many door knobs and drawer pulls etc. we still had great traffic on Friday & Saturday about the same. Robinsons Antiques

By - February 4, 2009

A 40 minute glimps at the first step to World Domination. Make it appear as if ALL the web has malware except for the ads… (Including yourself so you can avoid suspicion) Then blame human error so we all sigh and say “AWwww Google’s human” My site took a very small hit. My phone rang off the hook! “You have malware”! I’m glad it’s better.

By Brandy - February 6, 2009

I too was online in the UK when I saw all the warnings .. but dismissed them as hopefully a temporary error on Google’s part, rather than the fact that every Site on the Net ( including their own ) had suddenly become dangerous.

The interesting fact for me was that IE showed the errors but Firefox did not. Anyone any idea why ?

By Nev - February 6, 2009

We had a similar situation with Yahoo and McAffee. It caused us a large amount of business damage that continued to get worse and worse. After fighting threatening and an unbelievable amount of time wasting, we finally got McAfee to change their rating. (we have not been the only ones, just search the internet) Actually their rating had not been updated for some 4 years. We explained that if they are to run such a security system, they must accept the responsibility of keeping it updated, otherwise like in our case; it may publicize a security issue that was solved many years previous and thus flag a clean and respectable website.

It makes me think that with the world/society moving more and more towards internet business, things like this should be punishable. It is no excuse to say “we made a mistake” as the plaster for not having legal claims placed against you for damages. If for instance in the real world someone slandered the name of a company or its reputation unjustly, there would be consequences.

The above consequences are the pressures/risks felt by companies to make sure that their actions do not affect that of another company or person “the risk of being sued”, but when there is no risk, complacency can set in, carelessness or even blatant non concern.

I would like to know what compensation Google now plans to offer those worldwide companies that suffered business damage, extra work or disruption in operation. We must remember, nowadays some companies only use the internet for sales. What will Google, Yahoo and McAffee offer companies that have been wrongly publicized by their systems as dangerous? Or are these companies above the law?

In the past one must demonstrate the amount of business damage that occurred and a claim for disruption or extra work would not be considered. Nowadays however the situation is different and rules and penalties must be placed on all internet based companies such as Google and Yahoo especially, and those that have suffered from errors must be protected and helped.

Additionally there is the problem of unknown damage through slander. Nowadays this is more so and could within 40 minutes be the death of a company in its extremity. Authorities must realize and see this threat and something must be put in place to stop it happening.

For Google maybe a mistake. For McAffee maybe a lack of resources to keep ratings updated, maybe for Yahoo just another supplier’s system and not their problem, BUT FOR THOSE AFFECTED … THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN SUCCESS OR FAILURE, BETWEEN PROFIT OR LOSS, BETWEEN GROWTH OR RETRACTION!

By Anonymous - February 7, 2009

Traffic has never been, Good, Unless you Have the BIG bucks, for a Budget, they say your Quality or Relevance is Bad, you would think that 4 or 500 a month would get you more than one ( 1 ) hit

By Anonymous - February 8, 2009

I don’t use Google…..never have, never will.

By Anonymous - February 8, 2009

We certainly were affected as the leading video deposition specialists and court reporters here in Australia a US law firm that had been searching previously and marked us as favourites contacted us to make sure we were still in business!

By ros - February 8, 2009

not at all..

By Anonymous - February 8, 2009

Google has too much say so about the Net now, imagine how your site will suffer when the *want* and *desire* some websites not to be visited . . . think about it . . .

By Joe Blow - February 9, 2009



By john the MASSIVE - February 10, 2009

Google has the power to do whatever,like or hate it you cant do nowt ABOUT it,check mate

By nigel - February 10, 2009

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