Gmail outage hints at how a single source can grind us to a halt

Down Detector, a service that reports issues with such online platforms, received nearly 3,000 complaints from across the globe including India, Australia, Japan, UK and Germany

Gmail is the world’s biggest email service, boasting around 1.8 billion users worldwide, prompting many in India to wonder how dependent we are on the service at a time when work-from-home is the order of the day amid the deadly COVID-19 pandemic. Representational image: iStock

The disruption in Gmail and a host of its services that started in the evening on August 20 continued for about five hours. Down Detector, a service that reports issues with such online platforms, received nearly 3,000 complaints from across the globe including India, Australia, Japan, UK and Germany.

Gmail is the world’s biggest email service, boasting around 1.8 billion users worldwide, prompting many in India to wonder how dependent we are on the service at a time when work-from-home is the order of the day amid the deadly COVID-19 pandemic.

Down Detector said two-fifth of the reported issues involved users being unable to send attachments and 29% reported problems with logging in. Fifteen per cent said they were unable to receive chat messages. For Google Drive, the main issue was with file syncing, making up 68% of all reported problems.

The company has provided multiple updates on the matter stating it is investigating the issue and that there is disruption in sending emails, Meet recording, creating files in Drive, posting messages in Google Chat, among others.

Google had faced a similar outage in March when services such as Gmail, Drive, YouTube, and other Google services were down for a few hours in some countries.

Related news: Gmail facing disruptions, Google is ‘investigating’

Reports said home workers were hit by a Gmail meltdown, triggering fears that the coronavirus pandemic in remote businesses has left many countries dangerously reliant on a handful of tech companies.

According to The Telegraph, Derek McAuley, professor of digital economy at the University of Nottingham, said the issue is where everyone becomes dependent (on a single service), a whole sector can grind to a halt. “But this doesn’t happen when you have a more competitive and partitioned marketplace.”

In India, however, the middle-of-the-week outage is presumed to have affected work for many – especially since a lot of people have largely been working from home. It is possible that the issues did not affect all users of Gmail and Google Drive.

A cybersecurity specialist told The Telegraph that there had been concerns about a Google failure for many years. “As we all learn from mistakes, it does elevate a concern as to why this outage was not able to withstand such a force to knock it over and affect so many end users,” he said.

Get breaking news and latest updates from India
and around the world on thefederal.com
FOLLOW US: