Saturday, January 31, 2009

A Slash, but not the Guns N'Roses kind

I wasn't on the tubes Saturday morning, so I missed the excitement that occurred early this morning Pacific time, during which...well, I'll let Marissa Mayer, VP, Search Products & User Experience for Google, explain what happened:

If you did a Google search between 6:30 a.m. PST and 7:25 a.m. PST this morning, you likely saw that the message "This site may harm your computer" accompanied each and every search result.

The first thing that Google did? It apologized.

This was clearly an error, and we are very sorry for the inconvenience caused to our users.

This apology, incidentally, was posted at 9:02 a.m. Some could argue that Google should have posted something more quickly, but on the other hand it's possible that they could have responded much more slowly, especially on a weekend. I'm not going to quibble over a 97 minute response time.

The second thing that Google did is explain what happened. Here's part of the explanation:

What happened? Very simply, human error....We maintain a list of [bad] sites through both manual and automated methods. We work with a non-profit called to come up with criteria for maintaining this list, and to provide simple processes for webmasters to remove their site from the list.

We periodically update that list and released one such update to 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.

Mayer then explained how Google detected and fixed the problem, and apologized again.

The third thing that Google did was...well, this:

We will carefully investigate this incident and put more robust file checks in place to prevent it from happening again.

The fourth thing that Google did was to update the post as more information became available.

Update at 10:29 am PST: This post was revised as more precise information became available....

The quotes above are from the updated version of the post, and it's possible that additional updates could occur after I post my own post, so it's probably best to check the original post.

Incidentally, if you follow Google's link to the StopBadware post, you find out why Google had to update its original information. Times in the StopBadware post are Eastern time, definitely not Pacific time.

[Update 12:31] Google has posted an update on their official blog that erroneously states that Google gets its list of URLs from us. This is not accurate. Google generates its own list of badware URLs, and no data that we generate is supposed to affect the warnings in Google’s search listings. We are attempting to work with Google to clarify their statement....

[Update 1:36] Google updated its statement to reflect that StopBadware does not provide Google’s badware data.

[Update 2:35] Hopefully this will be the last update, as Google has acknowledged the error, apologized to its customers, and fixed the problem. As many know, we have a strong relationship with Google, which is a sponsor and partner of The mistake in Google’s initial statement, indicating that we supply them with badware data, is a common misperception. We appreciate their follow up efforts in clarifying the relationship on their blog and with the media. Despite today’s glitch, we continue to support Google’s effort to proactively warn users of badware sites, and our experience is that they are committed to doing so as accurately and as fairly as possible.

You can see why StopBadware was irritated. How would you feel if you were a small organization and a huge company blamed you for a problem?

So perhaps Google should have apologized to For all I know, they may have done so.
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