Google Briefly Nuked the Internet Last Night

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Photo: Torsten Silz (Getty Images)

Large swaths of U.S. internet users last night briefly experienced the dark, frustrating realities of a world devoid of Google services. Though Google has since resolved the outage issues, new reports suggest the disruptions may be tied to an “electrical incident” at a Council Bluffs, Iowa data center that left at least three electricians critically injured. Google’s blamed the disruptions on a software update.

Internet outage tracking site Downdetector started reporting accounts of Google outages around 9:00 EST on Monday evening with user reports quickly climbing to over 40,000 in less than one hour. The disruptions ran the gamut of Google products and left thousands unable to access search, Google’s bedrock product, or Google Maps. Users also reportedly experienced issues with Gmail and Google images. The outages seemed mostly limited to the U.S.-based users, though Bloomberg notes search issues impacted some users in Taiwan and Japan as well. Outage reports began to subside around two hours later.

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Officially, Google’s blaming the sudden outages on a, “software update.”

“We’re aware of a software update issue that occurred late this afternoon Pacific Time and briefly affected availability of Google search and Maps,” Google said in a statement to The Guardian. “We apologize for the inconvenience. We worked to quickly address the issue and our services are now back online.”

This is where things get a little hazy. Right around the same time users started experiencing disruptions Google was reportedly dealing with a major electrical fire in its Council Bluffs data center that sent at least three electricians to the hospital with critical injuries. The engineers, according to SF Gate, were reportedly working on a substation close to the data centers when an explosion occurred. One of the electricians was reportedly airlifted to a local hospital while the other two were rushed in by ambulances to treat their wounds. Though it’s unclear as of writing what, if any impact this explosion had on Google’s larger outage, it’s worth noting the Council Bluffs data center is one of the largest of the company’s 14 data centers spread across the U.S.

Google did not immediately respond to Gizmodo’s request for comment, but did acknowledge the incident in a statement sent to SF Gate.

“We are aware of an electrical incident that took place today at Google’s data center in Council Bluffs, Iowa, injuring three people onsite who are now being treated,” Google said. “The health and safety of all workers is our absolute top priority, and we are working closely with partners and local authorities to thoroughly investigate the situation and provide assistance as needed.”

Any disruption to Google’s search engine, even minor ones, holds tremendous weight due to the company’s obscene search engine market share stranglehold. Researchers estimate Google accounts for somewhere between 61.7% and 92% of searches conducted worldwide.

This Googlification of the world’s internet has only intensified in the mobile era. Android outfitted devices, according to the research firm Gartner, accounted for a whopping 82% of the global smartphone operating system market share during the end of 2016, with most of the vast majority of those phones featuring Google as the default search engine. Google’s mits are reportedly all over Apple iOS products as well. Last year, the search giant reportedly paid Apple around $15 billion to remain the default search engine in Apple’s Safari browser.

This is a developing story.

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