Earlier today, Google started placing malware warnings next to every site listed. TechCrunch has an excellent screenshot, and there’s much discussion on Techmeme. As part of its malware blocking system, this also meant anyone trying to reach a site by clicking on a link from Google were instead routed to a “do you really want to go to this site” page. The problem has since ended. Google hasn’t posted an official statement yet, but the head of its web spam team Matt Cutts has twittered that one is coming, along with apologies.
Postscript: The Google blog post is up now, explaining that human error caused a malware update it received to be applied to all sites:
We periodically receive updates to that list and received one such update to release on the site this morning. Unfortunately (and here’s the human error), the URL of ‘/’ was mistakenly checked in as a value to the file and ‘/’ expands to all URLs. Fortunately, our on-call site reliability team found the problem quickly and reverted the file. Since we push these updates in a staggered and rolling fashion, the errors began appearing between 6:27 a.m. and 6:40 a.m. and began disappearing between 7:10 and 7:25 a.m., so the duration of the problem for any particular user was approximately 40 minutes.
Postscript 2: A reporter asked me how much Google might have lost as a result of the failure. There’s no way to know. Google had 5.7 billion in revenue last quarter, which works out to about $2.6 million per hour, if I’m doing the math right. Since it was down for about an hour, that might serve as a top-level amount that could have been lost. But then you have to figure that Saturday morning Pacific time is much quieter than other times (yes, that’s still prime time for Europe and parts of the US, of course). The quarterly revenue also includes ALL Google revenue, not just search ads. And people might actually click MORE on ads due to the malware warnings on the unpaid results. Like I said, there’s really no way to know. I’m sure Google probably took some revenue hit, but I suspect it was far less than $2.6 million. Sites listed on Google also would have taken some minor dip in traffic. And Google’s competitors probably saw an uptick in traffic. There’s a good strategy for them — hope Google shoots itself in the foot more often.
More discusson to the Google blog post is now up on Techmeme here.