A mistake by Google literally broke the internet for half of Japan, causing disruptions that lasted for hours.
The incident, which happened last week, revealed that even just a small error can have massive effects in a world that is increasingly becoming dependent on being online.
Google Breaks Japan's Internet
On Aug. 25, a Google employee made a small mistake while updating an internet routing table, which is a collection of IP addresses. An error made it appear as if internet traffic can be routed through Google through IP addresses that were actually owned by internet service providers in Japan, so a large amount of Japanese internet traffic was sent to Google by major ISPs such as Verizon.
The glaring problem is that Google is not a service provider and is not capable of routing internet traffic. This meant that all the traffic that was headed to Japan was sent to practically nowhere, leading to an internet outage.
According to Google, it spotted and corrected the error in just 8 minutes, with connectivity restored within the hour. However, the damage was already done. Slow connection speeds resulting from the error affected a variety of industries in Japan, including finance, as online trading was suspended; and transportation, as riders of the East Japan Railway were not able to purchase tickets to get on trains. Millions of customers of NTT Communications, the largest telecommunications company in Japan, also saw their service go down. Other services that saw disruptions included Mercari, a flea market app, and Line, a popular communications app.
"We set wrong information for the network and, as a result, problems occurred. We modified the information to the correct one within eight minutes. We apologize for causing inconvenience and anxieties (among Internet users)," a Google spokesperson told The Asahi Shimbun.
The impact of Google's mistake actually pushed the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry of Japan to launch an investigation into the incident.
The Internet Is A Fragile Thing
Japan's internet was back to normal by the end of the day, but the massive effect of a relatively small error shows the fragility of the internet and its architecture. The incident is similar to one in March, when a typographical error resulted in an Amazon Web Services outage, leading to a four-hour internet shutdown.
Today, the world has become so dependent on the internet, and it is scary to see that an unintentional error can take down half a country. Fortunately, for this incident, Google took only minutes to identify and solve the issue, but it is a chilling thought to imagine what may have happened if the problem was irreversible.