Monday, February 02, 2009

Two (minor) cautionary tales...

First comes this story about Facebook, and the next step in their development of the system -
FACEBOOK is planning to exploit the vast amount of personal information it holds on its 150 million members by creating one of the world's largest market research databases.

In an attempt to finally cash in on the social networking site, once valued at $US15 billion ($23.6 billion), it will soon allow multinational companies to selectively target its members in order to research the appeal of new products. Companies will be able to pose questions to specially selected members based on such intimate details as whether they are single or married and even whether they are gay or straight.

The company, which has struggled to make money from advertising, has been demonstrating the benefits of its new instant polling tool to business leaders at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

Following from that is the latest Aussie panic about Google -
YOUR local phone exchange is down and your landline and mobile are not working. You need to make an urgent business call but you have no way of communicating with the outside world. What do you do?

A similar scenario hit the internet yesterday when Google, the dominant search engine, suffered a malfunction and marked all websites as dangerous, blocking them from use.

Millions of users were unable to access the sites they were looking for, and instead received the warning: "This site may harm your computer".

While the problem lasted only about 40 minutes, experts estimate millions of dollars were lost from online transactions dependent on the company's search functions. Users reported failures on other Google applications such as Gmail, which has 1.3 million accounts with the Department of Education.

"What happened? Very simply, human error," was Google's response. It said its list of sites containing malware - set up to protect users from potentially harmful sites - was wrongly updated and all sites were automatically blocked.

"Unfortunately, the URL of '/' was mistakenly checked in as a value to the file and '/' expands to all URLs," Google's vice-president of search products, Marissa Mayer, wrote on the company's blog.

But the failure of the search engine giant - believed to capture about 70 per cent of its market - raised questions about how widespread the financial impact would be of a longer or permanent failure of Google's products.

"It's critical infrastructure because people have it so interwoven and so ingrained into their existence that they can't live without it," said tech enthusiast Dave Gray from

"It scares me to think 'What if something would happen to Google today?'. Businesses would go under, massive amounts of money would be lost, core businesses would fail because they base their business models on using Google services.

"You've only got to look at the biggest-selling phone for the last quarter of last year, which was the iPhone. It's integrated with Google. It's got Gmail built into it, it's got Google Maps built into it, it has YouTube, which Google owns," said Gray.

Google's global range extends beyond internet searches on When the outage occurred yesterday, users reported failures on other Google applications like Gmail - which is now has 1.3 million email accounts with the NSW Department of Education - and iCalendar, used by businesses to organise and manage events for clients. A longer outage could have impacted the archiving of sites, thus rendering organisations dependent on an online presence for profit or profile virtually invisible to the public.

I remain, yours truly,
probligo the luddite


T. F. Stern said...

There is a concern, justifiably, for the prospect of similar outage of most every electronic system if/when major sunspot activity occurs.

This also would need to include the intentional attack on systems by terrorists and hackers intent on creating chaos.

The probligo said...

Hey, TF, that is supposed to be my line!! :D

The probligo said...

Hey, TF, that is supposed to be my line!! :D

Al said...

On the first tale, you'd be surprised what direct mail marketers have on you already, although, of course, Google Ads and such are much more instantaneous in their responses to what they know about you.

I have to look at this ugly ad with a pic of some gals fat belly everywhere I go.