The Alarming Frequency of Internet Outages

An inconvenience for some has dramatic implications

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Internet outages can be more than a mere inconvenience
Jianfa Ben Tsai/Creative Commons

If you’re on Facebook or Instagram, you may have noticed a partial outage on both services earlier this week. This had some odd side effects: among other things, the outage revealed the ways in which the service tags images, and offered clues as to what that means for Facebook’s machine learning initiatives. But there’s more afoot here than the inconvenience of not being able to see photos of friends and family, or being unable to upload excellent photos of your pets being adorable. 

The latest installment of The Interface at The Verge explores the ways in which internet outages have become more widespread, and what the implications of that might be.

“Social media outages have been unusually frequent this year,” writes The Verge’s Casey Newton. And this doesn’t just apply to the aforementioned Facebook issue: political regimes are also using internet outages for their own purposes, limiting the ability of opposition groups to network and plan protests. 

As more and more devices become dependent upon the internet, service outages can also take on new dimensions that have nothing to do with computers or phones. Last month’s Google outage, for example, also left users of Nest devices unable to regulate things like thermostats and baby cameras. (Nest is owned by Google.) “They might seem like a plot device in a heavy-handed sci-fi movie, but smart home glitches are an inevitability as more people invite digital helpers into their homes,” a report on the outages in The Daily Beast said

The complexity of internet outages can also be alarming. WIRED ran an in-depth look at a Google outage in early June, noting that the nature of the outage made it particularly difficult to debug and solve. And given that other sites use Google’s services like Google Cloud for their own operations, this issue was not simply confined to Google properties.

Internet outages can be an inconvenience for many. But, as this information reveals, that issue can go far deeper, and have more ominous connotations, than it first appears.

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