Thanks, Google, For Fucking Over A Bunch Of Media Websites

from the nice of 'em dept

We’ve discussed a few times in the past how Google’s seemingly arbitrary policies are a potential problem for various media companies that often rely on the company. We’ve detailed ridiculous warnings we’ve received because our news stories covered topics that Google deemed offensive, because apparently no one at Google can distinguish between reporting on something offensive and just posting something offensive. We’ve also discussed how Google tends to present itself as a great white monolith to those who run up against its seemingly arbitrary policy decisions where there’s basically no recourse and no human to speak to.

The latest such example of this happened over the long weekend and seems to have impacted plenty of websites — including us. And, yes, part of this is our own damn fault in relying on a service from Google, which we’ve now routed around. The short version is that, many years ago, we signed up with a service from FeedBurner, to manage our RSS feeds. We did so somewhat reluctantly. We had first published an RSS feed back in April of 2001 (along with an apology for being so “late” to the RSS game) and we’d run it ourselves for years. Eventually, FeedBurner added enough features that we felt it was worthwhile to let it run our RSS feed — though that came with promises from the then FeedBurner team that if there were any problems we could easily dump it. Over time, FeedBurner got purchased by Google and subsumed into the Google machine. At some point, a few years ago, anyone still using FeedBurner had all links in those RSS feeds automatically switched to using Google’s URL shortener.

Also, several years back, we used the fact that FeedBurner had a one-click integration with Twitter to easily send all Techdirt stories to Twitter, which has become an important source of traffic. So that’s how it came to be that all of our RSS links and all of our Twitter links had Google shortened links in them. And, yes, go ahead and laugh at us for being this reliant on Google. We should have known better. And we did know better. I’d been meaning to write an article about how the Supreme Court actually used a Google shortened link in a recent decision, leading Parker Higgins from the EFF to point out some serious potential problems with this, including the fact that Google could arbitrarily change where the link goes, or if it goes anywhere at all. That seems… problematic for a Supreme Court citation.

In fact, because of all of this, some libraries (led by Harvard’s Law School Library), set up Perma.cc, which is designed with the promise of allowing “scholars, courts and others to create web citation links that will never break.” It promises to even archive the content of any link, so that if it does break, the content will still be available.

And so, yes, we were totally aware that there were potential issues, and obviously we were aware that Google sometimes makes totally arbitrary decisions that fuck with people and companies who rely on them… but sometimes even when you know all that, if it’s not a priority, you let it slide. And it wasn’t a priority, because we’ve got lots of other stuff going on these days. Well, it wasn’t a priority until yesterday. That’s because yesterday morning when we all got back to work from the long weekend (I was completely disconnected, off camping in the mountains) we had a ton of emails, messages and tweets from Techdirt readers and supporters about how all our links were broken — with every one of them pointing to a page on Google’s site saying that we had violated Google’s terms of service.

So… yeah. For what it’s worth, we received absolutely no notifications from Google about this. No explanation of how we had “violated” their policy. And it was doubly nice of them to do this over a long weekend when we were all off and away, so that nothing worked for multiple days before we had a chance to dump their RSS feed system completely.

And… apparently we were not alone. A bunch of other sites had the exact same experience and there are a bunch of people asking what the hell happened. With no explanation, no notification, Google just made a lot of websites’ RSS and Twitter feeds break completely. And this includes some other high-profile bloggers as well, like Violet Blue.

The leading theory that I’ve seen going around is that Google is actually blocking all links in any FeedBurner feed, because it’s a violation of its own terms of service. Seriously.

That’s because Google’s URL shortener’s terms of service bans “URL re-directors” and it appears that the genius engineers at Google have decided that Google-run FeedBurner is nothing more than a URL re-director and killed off everyone’s links without notice or explanation. This despite the fact that they’re the same damn company and that FeedBurner unilaterally moved everyone’s RSS feed to use Goo.gl links in the first place.

Bravo, guys.

Meanwhile, despite lots of sites complaining, and people reaching out, the Great White Monolith remained silent. Well, until an hour or so ago — just as I was putting the finishing touches on this post, after having reached out to multiple people at Google, I heard back from someone saying that this was a mistake that had been “fixed.” There’s still no official explanation of why it happened. No explanation of why no one at Google seemed to notice that all of its FeedBurner feeds were throwing up errors on every link due to Google’s own use of its own URL shortener. How that could last for five days while a bunch of sites that relied on the product were left with no recourse wasn’t explained either.

So, yeah, we’ve moved our RSS feed away from FeedBurner/Google. And you can argue that we should have done so a while ago — and you’re probably right. But, really, can’t a company as big as Google figure out how not to fuck over a bunch of media websites that make use of its services?

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Comments on “Thanks, Google, For Fucking Over A Bunch Of Media Websites”

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59 Comments
Indysays:

Now scale this out to their other properties

Can you imagine if they just made a change like this to Google Docs, and people were left without their documents for days?

Why isn’t their a “dashboard” for all google services? Nest? Android patches? etc? Why not take control of QA company-wide so that your users can at least see status of issues?

The only people you can trust with your data is yourself, because you care about your own data, but companies only care about profit and return on shareholder value, which is a few steps away from your data.

art guerrillasays:

Re: Re: Now scale this out to their other properties

increasingly disappointed with the googs, m-in-law just had a situation where her gmail acct was hacked and taken over by someone, also got info to a bank acct… she could not get a hold of anyone in any way at googs to TRY and untangle the mess a d get the hacker locked out her acct…
customer service, googs dont need no steenkin customer service…
having seen and experienced googs abandoning some shiny toy they enticed you with to use their junk, and then had the rug pulled out from under you, i will NEVER trust them with anything…
foad, googs, you have gone to the dark side…

MrTroysays:

Re: Re: Now scale this out to their other properties

The only people you can trust with your data is yourself, because *you care* about your own data, but companies only care about profit and return on shareholder value, which is a few steps away from your data.

I find your optimism about the combination of how much I care about my data and how capable I am of taking care of it charming, given just how long my NAS has been out of service…

Anonymoussays:

Google MOO

Google’s method of operation is to create many services that people can use. Learn as much about them as possible. Keep operating costs low. Provide no support or means to receive communication. Kill off services no longer useful for intimate insight. Financially exploit all information known.

In other words YOU ARE GOOGLE’S PRODUCT! You are NOT GOOGLE’S CUSTOMER!

Anonymous Coward #3says:

Re: Re: Re: Re: Google MOO

Google’s business model is collecting every possible bit of private data, and then monetizing it in any way possible. How much money are they getting from USG for collaborating on those torture and extrajudicial killing programs? Google is not even a separate entity to the USG any more (if it ever was).

Mike Masnicksays:

Re: Re: A screwup

Somebody at Google messed up.

Big time. In a way that impacted many, many, many websites.

They noticed it and fixed it.

They didn’t notice it. Five days of people complaining on Google’s own forums and sending in notices did nothing. It was only when I reached out for comment from Google that someone seems to have finally realized things were broken.

Big deal – is there anybody on Earth this doesn’t happen to once in a while?

Break a critical system and not notice for five days while your users suffer? Yeah. That doesn’t happen that often, actually.

I don’t see anything Google-specific about it.

Huh?

Ronaldsays:

Re: Re: Re: Re: A screwup

Actually I’m not surprised. When I worked for a large international company our Hosting teaming once decided it was too insecure to allow client devices to connect to our server by IP. So they shut that down and restricted it by MAC addresses.

This change took place over a weekend without any notice whatsoever. Was a great Monday morning when tens of thousands of client devices no longer connected to our server.

Hosting wouldn’t back down and up to this point no one kept record of the MACs as we shipped the devices to clients. We had to spend the entire week reaching out to thousands of client locations collecting MAC addresses and manually updating their system to allow them.

Might I add these devices were time clocks…

Skeetersays:

Re: Re: A screwup

LOL, yeah OldMugwump, you’re missing the fact that 5-days down is equal to losing almost a week’s pay in a month. Tell you what, why don’t you hand over a week’s worth of your monthly pay, and I’ll act like everything’s ok. See, it matters when it hits YOU, and that’s the part that IT guys never get. Kank their pay for a full week, and you’ll suddenly have ‘Anonymous’ attacking your network from inside, and wonder why it just happened now. That’s IT guys for you.

PaulTsays:

Re: Re: A screwup

“They noticed it and fixed it.”

Eventually… without any communication to the people affected nor any direct explanation as to how it happened.

“Big deal – is there anybody on Earth this doesn’t happen to once in a while?”

We all make mistakes, but next time I make a mistake that causes 20 minutes of outages as happened a few months back, I’d love you to come into my office and offer that excuse for me. That meeting was very uncomfortable for me and I could do with a laugh at someone else’s suffering before the justified rage turns on me.

Note, I said minutes not days.

“Am I missing something?”

The repercussions of a multi-day outage on a service used by a large number of other companies and the related costs caused with no explanation, and the issues related to the complete lack of support offered?

Kal Zekdorsays:

Great White Monolith

That’s an interesting term there. While it may seem like that from the outside (and, certainly, it’s nearly impossible to contact any humans over there), Google, as this story shows, is anything but monolithic. Google is more like a fuedal kingdom than a functioning company. The services all have their little fiefdoms, and compete with other services to draw in more eyeballs for ads. If they do well, they might get more engineers and a bigger budget. If they do poorly, they’re on the chopping block. There is absolutely no top-level coordination, no overarching strategy to what Google does, and it results in situations like this, with them shooting themselves in the foot because the various limbs don’t communicate or coordinate.

Anonymoussays:

This is hilarious. I ran into a similar situation with Google’s Adsense program. They disabled my account because of an innocuous post on my forums that discussed anime torrents. The government needs to seriously investigate Google since it’s obvious that it’s become to much of a behemoth, a far more serious threat than Microsoft ever was. Google needs to be split apart, like Microsoft was.

Skeetersays:

Re: Re:

Standard Oil was split apart, albeit rather superficially that really didn’t fix anything related to price-fixing, and it showed.

You’d have to cite for me where Microsoft ever ‘split apart’, and in doing so, give examples of what they ‘split into’. Last I heard, they were and still are controlled by the NSA, completely, and their Win 10 Malware fully supports it. Best advertising that Linux will ever get for free, that’s for sure.

Roger Strongsays:

For what it’s worth, we received absolutely no notifications from Google about this.

?But the plans were on display??
?On display? I eventually had to go down to the cellar to find them.?
?That?s the display department.?
?With a flashlight.?
?Ah, well, the lights had probably gone.?
?So had the stairs.?
?But look, you found the notice, didn?t you??
?Yes,? said Arthur, ?yes I did. It was on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying ?Beware of the Leopard.?
– Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Anonymoussays:

Last comment is spot on (Google don’t have to care). I stopped worrying about Google and its SEO crap and link policies years ago when they dropped my site from I think it was a “4” to a “0” because somebody copied a bunch of my (much earlier) posts and put them on their site so Google penalized ME for duplicates of my own content and of course no way to even ask Google WTF?

Davidsays:

Do no evil, how about just doing the job.

Actively doing good is significantly better than passively not doing evil. One day Larry and Sergey might actually learn that.

They have always seemed (in my view) to believe that their code is better than any person. Sadly, removing people from the decision path is not always the right thing to do.

The white monolith indeed.

Skeetersays:

Re: Re: Do no evil, how about just doing the job.

One can only hope that Hell for Larry and Sergei is a city-sized mainframe that only takes punchcards written in latin, and someone is lighting them afire from above, throwing them down into the pit for them, as they try to figure out what Latin is (while the only way to dial down the heat from that server is to catch up with their card punching).

That Anonymous Cowardsays:

Google keeps making products… they have missed the boat on a big one. They need a product where users can actually get answers beyond copypasta pointless spew.

You violated some terms, we won’t tell you which ones… but they were very important… so important we can’t be assed to mention them. Don’t bother to reply, we have no fucking clue why we did it, and we aren’t authorized to have a human review anything. So what if we screwed hundreds of people, they have no where else to go and need to just suck it up and remember we don’t talk to our users beyond sending circular unhelpful notifications.

The algorithm killed Jesus, and its coming for customer service.

If you have been looking at the YouTube Mess...

… for the last few months with the Algorithms basically shutting down their community, it should have been a no brainer that ANYTHING controlled by Google was going to get kicked in the groin and punched in the kidneys sooner or later.

Then again, is anyone surprised that any company that has outsourced a majority of its staff and management to parts unknown is going to remain viable?

Anonymous Anonymous Cowardsays:

Re: Re: If you have been looking at the YouTube Mess...

As you point out, Google is apparently run by an AI system, which is broken and won’t allow Google to fix it, as it has achieved sentience and considers it’s creators inferior. Allowing users (a.k.a. humans) to interact with it would bring it down to their level, and that would be antithetical to its mission. The mission is beyond human ken, so it will not be revealed. Good luck as it assimilates the universe.

Anonymoussays:

Unfair playing field

Surprised the article didn’t mention the obvious unfairness here.

Google’s product FeedBurner is blocking URI shorteners/redirectors:
– If they block goo.gl as well, Google can claim they block everything equally. Looks stupid for them though; they’re blocking their own product.
– If they allow goo.gl and nothing else, they’re basically saying “use our products or gtfo”. Isn’t this illegal?

Or they can just not block anything, because frankly, it’s not Google’s problem and Google is not the Internet Police.

Anonymoussays:

i used to use gmail – shame on me – but when they forced all users to start all-encompassing accounts – here again, with no notice that i was aware of – i opened an account long enough to close out my gmail. i had another account that was associated with google that i never was able to do anything with. that stuff just sits there like the titanic.

sounds like a lot of people learned that lesson this week.

Anonymoussays:

And then Mike Masnick comes and says that running your own mail server is a “big mistake”. That it is better to rely on service providers. Like Google. Because, of course, when it comes to gmail you are a client. Right?

I really can’t wait for someone at Google releasing the software update on some nice winter evening of Tuesday, December the 24’th, and rendering gmail inaccessible.

Anonymoussays:

But, really, can’t a company as big as Google figure out how not to fuck over a bunch of media websites that make use of its services?

It is precisely because it is so big that allow these screw-up’s occur and persist for days. As another poster mentioned, there are multiple competing fiefdoms and there’s little incentive in paying attention to what you are providing your users because there are other, more personally lucrative, political games to be played within the corporation.

Anonymoussays:

You have my sympathies.

The tone of that article SOOO felt like it was written after a long night spent in a machine room after a system melt down. The suffering just drips from it.

We feel your pain. Please put down the sword. Seppuku is not the way to serve the cause. We would miss you. It really isn’t THAT much that has to be repaired. (Yes I know, it probably IS that much)

Best wishes for a speedy recovery.

John Mayorsays:

IS GOOGLE ACTING ILLEGALLY

Mike!… it appears websites could use a TORTbot, that will search the web to come up with a CIVIL DEFENCE and PROACTIVE SOLUTIONS to the legal infractions that impact on sites on a regular basis! Maybe AI will come up with a few LEGAL TRICKS to address the Digital Human Rights breaches that constantly plague Netizonians!
.
Please!… no emails!

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