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When Google services like Gmail and YouTube went down, lights in this man's house failed

Google services suffered a global outage today for about an hour that made connected devices go offline.

twitter-logoShubham Verma | December 14, 2020 | Updated 19:49 IST

Highlights

  • Google services went down today for about an hour causing heavy disruptions.
  • A man was sitting in dark because his Google Home-controlled lights stopped working.
  • Times like this remind us to lessen our dependence on the internet devices.

Google services, including YouTube and Gmail, went offline for about an hour Monday evening leaving a large fraction of internet users stranded. It was not just a minor glitch but a global outage that not only made Google services inaccessible on the web but also impacted smart devices, such as Nest speakers. The impact was so severe that a man on Twitter has claimed he had to sit in a dark room because of the outage. This might sound weird to you but this is entirely possible, considering how the internet has crept into almost everything that we use today. Before I tell you what happened, a little about the short-lived fiasco.

So today when Google suffered the global outage at around 5 pm, its services went kaput for several minutes before Google restored them. Google has a vast network of services that are intermingled in a manner that favours the convenience of a connected ecosystem over the manual one. This is largely dependent on smart devices that use Google Assistant and its services to contact each other. But since the outage impacted each one of them, Joe Brown, who is associated with publications such as Car and Bike, had to witness what could be a precursor to the imminent dystopia that most technology experts have feared.

Brown said he was sitting in the dark in his toddler's room when all this happened because the lights at his home are controlled by Google Home. Google Home is the first-generation smart speaker that is controlled by voice and the help of Google Assistant. The speaker necessarily allows you to control things such as smart lights, smart fans, security cameras, and other internet-connected devices with Google Assistant, which was one of the services that stopped working for some time during the outage today. Since Assistant is the core service controlling smart devices, the outage impacted smart lights at Brown's home.

This is a scary situation where you realise that you might not have control at all. Contrary to the comfortable thought of ordering Google Assitant (or Alexa or Siri) to switch lights for you, a single glitch left you high and dry, even helpless because the lights cannot work without Google's services. Although that is not possibly true for all smart devices that offer some level of manual interference. But the main point here is to revisit our inclination towards connected gadgets and the nibbles associated with them. Times like this make people think to have gone for regular light switches, lights, and other home appliances that far from dysfunctioning because the internet is not involved.

Brown's tweet, which also reads: "rethinking...a lot right now," paints a frightening picture for people who have a very tight voice-controlled ecosystem. A single mishap can cause the entire ecosystem to temporarily collapse, and there could be nothing that you can do about it. Much like Brown, several people have mentioned how today's situation was scary enough. And while these people were discussing the cons of internet-controlled devices, one of the Twitter users suggested something that could actually be something for tech companies to chew on.

He said that smart devices should use local network instead of relying on the cloud infrastructure that can cause network-wide disruptions in case of a single failure. His suggestion makes sense, especially when an outage like this show what could go terribly wrong with the cloud. It is also not something entirely new. Google has made several services offline, such as Live Captions on Pixel devices, which do not need the internet to work and rely on the device's resources. Well, I am not sure how this good idea can be implemented. I just want to make sure Google (and Amazon, Apple, Samsung) are listening.

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