Google slashes the Internet

If the world ever needed proof that it’s Google’s Web and we just surf on it, we got it in spades last Saturday morning when the Search Engine That Roared declared the entire Internet one steaming fetid pile of manure.

(Though, given all the malware-laden crap that’s been landing in my inbox lately, I’m starting to think they had a point.)

For about 40 minutes early on the morning of January 31, clicking on any Google search result generated a screen declaring "Warning! This site might harm your computer," and directed users to visit StopBadware.org to learn more.

The surge in traffic resulted in an unintentional dDOS attack on StopBadware, bringing down its servers. They seem to be good sports about it, though — possibly because Google is a key sponsor of the nonprofit org that runs the site.

At first, Google pointed the finger at StopBadware, claiming it had supplied the search mavens with a bad list of verboten URLs. Then in a classic ‘oops, my bad’ moment, Google fessed up. In an Official Google Blog post, the extremely dishy Marissa Mayer wrote:

What happened? Very simply, human error. Google flags search results with the message "This site may harm your computer" if the site is known to install malicious software in the background or otherwise surreptitiously. …We maintain a list of such sites through both manual and automated methods….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.

In other words, nearly the entire Net got flagged as malware due to a simple slash — setting a record for brevity not even Slashdot can match.

Why is this news? For one thing, it’s always fun to see the high and mighty slip on a banana peel and land on their assets. More important, it points out the extreme power Google wields — and once again raises fears the Web is rapidly turning into a monoculture, where one product or technology dominates. Monocultures are beneficial to a point, because they can speed adoption and standardization of technologies. But they also share the same vulnerabilities; if they contract a deadly disease or fatal exploit, they can be wiped out en masse.

This week somebody in Mountain View sneezed, and the entire Web went home with the flu. Next time, Google could catch something more serious — and we all could end up in the hospital.

Is Google too powerful? And if so, what are ya gonna do about it, eh cowboy? Post your thoughts below or send them to me direct: dan (at) dantynan (dot) com.

This post originally appeared on Infoworld’s Notes From the Field blog.

Google warning screen borrowed from SEO Blog.

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