I’m here after a certain Google outage lead to at least 1 sensational headline misleading some people that contact me asking for an opinion. I was aware of the outage at the time as I was trying to use Google products. The article headline that I dive into below just made me laugh at the time and I had to dive into it a bit more.
On the 14th December 2020 Google had a pretty large outage for nearly an hour due to problems with their User ID service, which makes up part of their authentication infrastructure. The postmortem of the incident is up explaining exactly what happened, as well as a less technical blog post.
On the day, and following the incident, there was quite a bit of media coverage on the topic. One article by The Daily Express stood out to me really aimed to mislead with its headline: Google DOWN: ‘This could be 9/11 of hacks’ Security expert admits grave concerns.
Some more reasonable headlines avoiding the hack speculation are linked below. None of these articles even speculate toward a hack as part of the article content either.
- Financial Times – Google services including Gmail and YouTube start to return after outage
- The Guardian – Google suffers global outage with Gmail, YouTube and majority of services affected
- The Telegraph – Chaos for millions of home workers as Google services crash globally
- Forbes – Massive Google Outage Takes Millions Offline
- Sky News – Google restoring systems after global outage of YouTube and Gmail
- Metro – Need To Know: Google back online after major global outage
- Aljazeera – Google services restoring after worldwide outage
- Russia Today – Smart home suddenly became ‘stupid’: Google Home users left in dark as outage creates smart light blackout
Let’s dive into the express article in a little more detail…
The Express article
Seemingly the main issue is the conflation of the SolarWinds caused data breach of various parts of the US government and an unrelated outage at Google the day after. In that respect most of the content makes some sense, the data breach that happened seems fairly bad, but those comments probably shouldn’t relate to the Google outage.
Content & Adverts
The main content of the article comes from a single interview on talkRadio with a security expert. The article itself is primarily quotes from this interview. 36 words used in headlines, 34 words of seemingly original content and 214 words of quotes from the video.
This article, and many other express articles are optimized for advertising. The headline is very click baity, dramatizing the situation. The page itself contains too many advertisements to count, but perhaps 20+. That’s around 1 advert for every 4 words of original content, if we include the title.
Connection to previous hack
Connecting the Google outage to the previous days SolarWinds issues are my main issues with the security expert interview. To me this is similar to speculating that two unrelated car crashes are related, and perhaps the cause is that cars are taking over the world.
Technology and service outages happen all of the time, they are likely a daily occurrence, maybe even minutely depending on which level you look at. Sometimes those outages bubble up to a high enough level where people see them. But is this a reason to think they are a hack? Probably not. Is there some amount of time after the last issue that we stop trying to connect it to the next one?
Another Express article
Interestingly there is another article by The Express on the Google outage topic with the title Google down MAPPED: Europe, USA and Australia hit by huge Google outage. This article, written by Bill McLoughlin, compared with the other written by Svar Nanan-Sen sticks to presenting the facts that appear to be known in a less sensational way.
This blackout across Google’s services also comes days after a successful hack on the US – although the two have not been linked.
It even goes to refer to the same talkRADIO interview quoted by the previous article, also correctly characterizing them separately as a hack and an outage.
Commenting on the previous hack and today’s Google outage, security expert, Will Geddes told talkRADIO: “It appears that the attack was initially targeted against the US.
Amusingly the better and more detailed article was actually published 30 minutes before the more sensational clickbaity article.
Does The Express have an editor? Why do both of these articles even still exist? All I can imagine is that it is for the clicks…