Google would like you to believe that it’s all automatic, that there is this army of search spiders that digs out every last page and image on the Web and decides which is “better” for any given search term. It’s true, as far as it goes, but the company tends to carefully elide the human element that goes into its search result. Until something goes horribly wrong, as it did Saturday morning. For an hour, Google said every site on the Net was dangerous — itself included.
As one of its special added values to make itself more attractive to the world at large, Google has taken it upon itself to flag sites that it senses contain viruses, Trojan horses, and other malware. When it finds a site like that, Google pops up a line in the search result saying. “This site may harm your computer,” and browsers post a scary warning if you go ahead and click on the link anyway. It takes a fair amount of nerve to click through when you see one of those.
It’s an open secret that there are about 10,000 people around the world who spot check Google’s search results and resolve issues — is this site really as good or as bad as it looks? — that the famous algorithm can’t resolve for itself. One non-profit they work with is StopBadware.org, which Google says helps come up with criteria for identifying naughty sites.
On Saturday, some intern — it had to be an intern, right? Who else would have been working at 5am Saturday? — apparently set some software flag wrong or something, and Presto! the Net became an even nastier place than Time Magazine could ever have imagined.
It took Google about half an hour to notice and fix it, and maybe another half hour before everything got back to normal. But wow — it looks like there’s more of a human element to Google than they like to let on…