Kelly Evans: Google Goes Down


My husband was all ready to hit the gym (in our garage) this morning when he ran into an odd last-minute problem; his playlist wouldn't load.  

He turned the WiFi on and off a couple times, but that didn't help. Oddly, playlists from Amazon Music and other providers still showed up on his phone, but not YouTube's. So he finally started trying to quickly recreate the playlist (not an easy task when your listening preference is "heavy metal instrumental"). Anyhow, we were dumbfounded when, a few moments later, Squawk Box informed us that in fact, it wasn't a fluke; Google was suffering a widespread outage. 

His inconvenience was minor compared with the other services affected; Gmail, Google Drive, and calendar and videoconferencing apps, along with YouTube, were all down for a period of time. Nest and Google Classroom were also affected. The problems spiked around 6:30 a.m., Down Detector told CNBC; by 8:07, Google was tweeting "all clear folks! Thanks for staying with us."  

But what choice do we have, really? I don't mean this so much in the "Google-is-an-evil-monopoly" sense, but more as a recognition of how vital it--along with Amazon Web Services, Apple's iPhone, and Microsoft's cloud and products--has become to how we live and work today.  

Ironically, Dave Zervos was just writing about this earlier this morning. The Jefferies strategist was explaining why he thinks places like New York City are in trouble post-pandemic: "From what I can tell, the virus shock will have a much more permanent effect than 9/11 did, because of one simply difference--technology!!" Back in the early 2000s, he said, "technology could never have supported these remote-working structures." But today, it can; "And it makes cities like New York much less important for these key businesses going forward."  

But there is one obvious vulnerability in the "work-from-anywhere" revolution that's underway: the very technology that enables it. We are more dependent than ever on these products and services working. Imagine if Google's Classroom outage had lasted all day? That's the new "snow day" for kids. What if Nest stopped heating your house for awhile? What if your business--like so many these days--relies on G-suite products? What if, as we await the launch of "ADT+Google" next year, a future outage affected your home security?  

Let this be a reminder to all of us of the need to be well-diversified. But even then, you're probably relying on one of the Big Four--and you're in trouble regardless if the internet goes down. "I'm glad we didn't switch over to Nest," is what my husband said. But I'm sure we'll end up using something like that soon enough, as smart-home technology becomes the default option in the marketplace.  

And let's not forget, it's not just about occasional technological glitches; there are real bad actors out there, no doubt salivating over these growing vulnerabilities. In fact, if it weren't for Covid, the last couple weeks would have been dominated by headlines about some of the worst hacks this country has experienced in years. 

First it was FireEye, warning its best "tools" had been hacked by a foreign agent (reportedly Russia), tools that could be used to hack serious targets like the government and corporate America. (If you missed it, this interview about it with David Kennedy of TrustedSec from Power Lunch last week is a must-watch.) Then last night we learn there was a massive hack of Treasury, Commerce, and other U.S. agencies also "believed to be the work of the Russian government...[and] related to a cyber breach disclosed last week" of FireEye, according to The Wall Street Journal.  

"[Some] described it as among the most potentially worrisome cyberattacks in years...a '10' on a scale of one to 10, in terms of its likely severity and national security implications," the Journal wrote. And it's barely getting a passing mention today, what with the vaccine rollout and all.  

Google says it was down today because of "an authentication system outage" due to an "internal storage quota issue." Its had outages like this before; and Amazon had its own cloud outage just a couple of weeks ago, leaving New York City unable to update train information on its subways. The point being: glitches will happen, because technology isn't perfect. But we don't need hacks and cyberattacks on top of that, which you hope are being vigorously fought. Because in much the way that Covid exposed the fragility of our previously on-the-go lives, the next cataclysm could come when our technology goes on lockdown.  

See you at 1 p.m!


Twitter: @KellyCNBC

Instagram: @realkellyevans

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