Facebook and Google outages show up our reliance on their services

Such outages used to be common but we now tend to think their services are infallible

 

This week Facebook pulled off the ultimate Throwback Thursday by paralysing its family of apps to the point of 2009-era unusability. For 12 hours between Wednesday and Thursday, huge interruptions hit Facebook, Whatsapp, Messenger and Instagram, with persistent issues for uploading photo and video content long after normal service was resumed.

“We’re focused on working to resolve the issue as soon as possible” wrote Facebook’s official page, “but can confirm that the issue is not related to a DDoS attack.” Much in the way of a small, chocolate-covered child telling you they have no idea where all the creme eggs went, many found this statement more alarming than if they’d never raised the prospect of cyberattacks in the first place, not least since Google users reported issues with Gmail, Drive and Google apps around the same time.

Experts say it may have been a coincidence. Perhaps, somewhere in the internet’s creaking bowels, two different rats chewed on two different pipes, gnawing on all of the ones and zeroes that made up your Auntie Pauline’s photos of her trip to Santorini, and your cousin Paul’s Google search for that lady newsreader he likes, respectively.

Either way, the outages did show how comically dependent we’ve become on services that are fallible private enterprises. It has become routine to think – it is, in fact, Facebook and Google’s business model to make us think – that their services are infallible and inevitable features of being online.

Stark contrast

This puts in stark contrast just how routine stoppages and shortages were not too long ago. Facebook had fairly common outages as recently as 2010, while Google pioneered the use of zany placeholder images and games for when its services intermittently failed. Twitter was so renowned for shutdowns that the whale icon it showed during them became a ubiquitous feature for its users. The so-called Fail Whale was the subject of much ribbing, but didn’t seem anomalous, or an outrage.

Now, these three megaliths of the digital multiverse keep the majority of the world in touch with itself, the game has changed a little. In 2009 it was a bit of a bummer when your Charlie Sheen memes failed to upload at the fifth time of asking, but since the president of the United States can literally threaten nuclear war via Twitter, it does seem like the stakes are a little higher.

Luckily, as Facebook’s hive of apps were suffering difficulties, we did have our best people on the case. “@instagram please contact me” wrote Lindsay Lohan, in an admirable attempt at taking things on directly. Hours later all service was restored. Coincidence? There’s only so many of those you can buy.

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