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Google Mistook Jackson Searches For Net Attack 256

Posted by timothy
from the did-say-sorry-about-the-old-woman dept.
Slatterz writes "Web giant Google has admitted it thought the sudden spike in searches for Michael Jackson on Thursday was a massive, coordinated internet attack, leading it to post an error page on Google News. The company's director of product management, RJ Pittman, explained that search volume began to increase around 2pm PDT on Thursday and 'skyrocketed' by 3pm, finally stabilising at around 8pm. According to Pittman, last week also saw one of the largest mobile search spikes ever seen, with 5 of the top 20 searches about Jackson. Google wasn't the only site caught out by the extraordinary events. The Los Angeles Times web site also crashed soon after it broke the news of Jackson's death."
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Google Mistook Jackson Searches For Net Attack

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  • I wonder (Score:4, Insightful)

    by whereizben (702407) on Sunday June 28, 2009 @08:11PM (#28508213) Journal
    If any other news "event" has ever caused there to be such a massive amount of searching - it worries me that it is a celebrity causing this and that people aren't this into any "real" news that actually impacts them.
    • Re:I wonder (Score:5, Insightful)

      by AmigaHeretic (991368) on Sunday June 28, 2009 @08:16PM (#28508257) Journal
      I don't think it's necessarily that people aren't into "real" news, I think this is one of those things that impacted a lot of people around the entire world all at the same time. As we get more and more of our news off the Internet this will become more common.

      There's not a lot of news that effects everyone in the world all at once. Probably as soon as North Korea launches a nuke against someone the same thing will happen.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        [quote]Probably as soon as North Korea launches a nuke against someone the same thing will happen.[/quote]
        The frightening thing is, I'm not so sure it will.

      • Re:I wonder (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Foobar of Borg (690622) on Sunday June 28, 2009 @09:09PM (#28508633)

        There's not a lot of news that effects everyone in the world all at once. Probably as soon as North Korea launches a nuke against someone the same thing will happen.

        You're probably right. On Sept. 11, 2001, the news sites all ground to a halt as everyone tried to find out what was going on.

      • Re:I wonder (Score:5, Funny)

        by steelfood (895457) on Monday June 29, 2009 @11:21AM (#28514441)

        It's as if millions of voices cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced.

    • Re:I wonder (Score:5, Insightful)

      by basil64 (1061038) on Sunday June 28, 2009 @08:26PM (#28508315)
      Keep in mind that every day, month and year that passes increases the ubiquitousness of web enabled devices and services (i.e. twitter, etc.) geometrically. And sad but true, celebrity foibles and deaths are and always have been more fascinating to the masses than any 'real' news.
      • Re:I wonder (Score:5, Interesting)

        by selven (1556643) on Sunday June 28, 2009 @09:54PM (#28508871)
        That's because "real news" happens in Nowheresville on the other side of the world. Celebrity life affects them, because if Angelina and Brad break up who's going to act in their movies? Once real news is happening in home turf (see: 9/11), people tend to be even more reactive than they are to celebrity stuff. Even stuff like a single 8-year-old girl getting kidnapped (here in Toronto it's happened twice now at least, [Cecilia Zhang and Tori Stafford if you're interested]) gets people more riled up than a random bunch of 50-100 civilians dying in Iraq.
    • Re:I wonder (Score:5, Insightful)

      by sayfawa (1099071) on Sunday June 28, 2009 @08:47PM (#28508473)
      Well, right after the sept 11th attacks, the internets was pretty useless. I had access to a T3 at the time, and no news sites took less than a minute to reload. OTOH, when MJ died, I don't remember having trouble with any of my usual sources. Maybe Google had a problem, but neither thestar.com or the BBC did.

      So maybe instead of a bad reflection on humanity, this is just a bad reflection on the current stability of the intertubes, Google in particular.
      • Re:I wonder (Score:5, Insightful)

        by cetialphav (246516) on Sunday June 28, 2009 @09:29PM (#28508731)

        So maybe instead of a bad reflection on humanity, this is just a bad reflection on the current stability of the intertubes, Google in particular.

        It actually seems to be a good reflection of the current stability of the internet. After all, it worked fine for you and most other people. Sites have gotten much better at handling heavy traffic so it is harder to bring them down. In Google's case, it wasn't so much the amount of traffic as it was misinterpreting what that traffic meant. They thought it was an attack and started playing defence instead of serving it. Once they realized the problem, they could easily handle the volume.

        • Re:I wonder (Score:5, Insightful)

          by sayfawa (1099071) on Sunday June 28, 2009 @09:44PM (#28508823)
          Good point. Maybe the whole gist of this thread should be "nothing to see here, move along".
          • Re:I wonder (Score:4, Informative)

            by Keybase (156846) on Monday June 29, 2009 @12:26AM (#28509805)

            You don't live in Canada you live out west.... Canada is located in southern Ontario.

            Didn't you know? Since the economic downturn Canada has had to move to Saskatchewan to find a job. Some of it even overflowed into Alberta. The move started in the 1800's with the building of the CPR.

        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by KamuZ (127113)

          It actually seems to be a good reflection of the current stability of the internet

          That reminds me the last time i tried to use my cellphone to call my relatives after an earthquake, impossible, it was only 2 years ago or so. We will see (hopefully not) when something really bad happens how the net behaves. Probably like in 9/11, we will only get text news pages. What i am worried is twitter, probably won't make it and if they did, who knows the kind of misinformation it will deliver to people... not that actual news are 100% accurate either... *sigh*

        • Worked fine (Score:3, Interesting)

          by S-100 (1295224)
          When the MJ news first hit, one of the early sites handling the rumor was TMZ.COM. I was on the page before CNN and other sources had reported MJ dead. The TMZ page automatically loaded a streaming video window with live reports of the ongoing story. I left the page open while I attended to other matters, and other than the video blanking out now and then, the stream was stable for hours. I was thinking to myself that surely this story would overload their servers, what with the home page automatically
    • Re:I wonder (Score:5, Informative)

      by agilen (410830) on Sunday June 28, 2009 @09:34PM (#28508751)

      When I was a freshman in college, an EE professor put a chart up on the projector. It was a fairly consistent chart with one giant spike right in the middle. He explained this was demand on the US power grid over a period of several months, and asked the class what they thought caused the giant spike...most big world events of the 90s were thrown out by the students....and they were all wrong.

      The spike that put all the country's power plants at full capacity was the announcement of the OJ Simpson verdict.

    • Re:I wonder (Score:5, Insightful)

      by glitch23 (557124) on Sunday June 28, 2009 @09:55PM (#28508875)

      If any other news "event" has ever caused there to be such a massive amount of searching - it worries me that it is a celebrity causing this and that people aren't this into any "real" news that actually impacts them.

      It isn't necessarily the "impact" factor but the fact that no one expected it. It was a sudden death. He was 50 years old. This is similar to the death of Heath Ledger. When someone young dies people are going to be shocked and wonder what happened. This is also one of the reasons for an autopsy. Old people who die usually don't have an autopsy done on their bodies unless something is out of whack. Someone dying young is one of those "out of whack" things. It is a curiousity thing just like staring at a car wreck and death is something anyone can relate to.

      • Re:I wonder (Score:5, Funny)

        by tomhudson (43916) <`moc.nosduh-arab ... `nosduh.arabrab'> on Sunday June 28, 2009 @11:33PM (#28509429) Journal

        It isn't necessarily the "impact" factor but the fact that no one expected it.

        Actually, most people were probably surprised that he lasted as long as he did. With body parts falling off or changing colour, he was obviously WAY past his "best before" date.

        That he died of a heart attack is just so ... mundane ... you'd expect it to be something like an angry parent or slipping off a balcony or a hyperbaric chamber malfunction or something involving Bubbles, a rope, and a closet.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by node 3 (115640)

          That he died of a heart attack is just so ... mundane

          Cardiac arrest is not the same as a heart attack. Cardiac arrest is when the heart just stops, a heart attack is when the heart stops receiving blood/oxygen (as ironic as that sounds).

    • Don't know about searching, but 9/11 caused several of the worlds largest news sites to be inaccessible [cnet.com] for over an hour.
    • Re:I wonder (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Darkness404 (1287218) on Sunday June 28, 2009 @10:05PM (#28508931)
      The thing about MJ wasn't really that he died but rather the fact that he just randomly died. He was arguably one of the most popular musicians with the general crowd to die since Elvis. Many people got texts, twitter updates, Facebook updates and wondered what exactly was going on. While no one thought MJ was in amazing health, he didn't have cancer or a long illness so many assumed it was a prank so they Googled it to get the info from a reliable source.
      • by ckaminski (82854)
        And then there were those of us who didn't give a shit, and just wanted to get some news from CNN. WTF?
      • Re:I wonder (Score:4, Interesting)

        by treat (84622) on Monday June 29, 2009 @12:18AM (#28509757)

        The thing about MJ wasn't really that he died but rather the fact that he just randomly died. He was arguably one of the most popular musicians with the general crowd to die since Elvis. Many people got texts, twitter updates, Facebook updates and wondered what exactly was going on. While no one thought MJ was in amazing health, he didn't have cancer or a long illness so many assumed it was a prank so they Googled it to get the info from a reliable source.

        That's the right answer.

        The story is exactly relevant enough and questionable enough that it needs verification. So -everyone- verifies it.

        The question should be - what about Michael Jackson's life leads people to believe that news of his death is so likely to be a prank that it must be immediately verified?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by atraintocry (1183485)

      There's more important things than music? That's news to me.

    • Re:I wonder (Score:5, Informative)

      by Evil Shabazz (937088) on Sunday June 28, 2009 @11:46PM (#28509523)
      I don't think you are grasping the whole picture, and your post is modded up by the same kind of people who complain that MJ out-twittered Iran for a little while. Do you believe that we are really incapable of being concerned about multiple topics at once? I am, of course, way more concerned for the people in Iran and the conflict that is happening there than I am about MJ's death - but did I search Google after my friend came by my desk that afternoon and said, "Michael Jackson died!" - of course I did! Does that mean I don't care about the coup in Honduras or the sham trial in Burma, or about Obama's new healthcare plans? No. And frankly, that's stupid to even suggest.

      You see, those other things I listed are not surprise, immediate events. Those things are not likely to have caused millions upon millions of people with internet access to suddenly, at the same time, wonder, "is that true?" I'll let you finish thinking about only this post while I go check out some pr0n, read my email, and browse some other news headlines.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      Michael Jacksons death was very real news to me, and I suspect millions of other people. I've listened to MJs music almost all my life. I have fond childhood memories watching the "Moonwalker" movie. Therefore MJs cultural impact and musical career are a very "real" part of my life. Quite alot more real than the financial crisis we seem to be having right now or some ships getting hijacked off the coast of Somalia.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by jonbryce (703250)

      I think the reason a lot of people searched Google News is because they heard about it and weren't sure if it was true or not. If someone wanted to spread an untrue rumour about something, this is the sort of subject they would choose.

      I searched Google News for that reason, and when I saw it was reported on news sources that are usually reliable for that type of news, like BBC and Sky News, I then believed it was true.

      Also, like a million or so other people, I have tickets for his show in London next month

  • Old news (Score:2, Interesting)

    by game kid (805301)
    It's Sunday; the death occurred on Thursday and Google blogged on the "attack" problem on Friday [blogspot.com].
  • by bignetbuy (1105123) <r0ck@@@operamail...com> on Sunday June 28, 2009 @08:13PM (#28508227) Journal
    This is all so confusing!

    If Google had read Google News, they would have known about MJs death. But Google didn't and thought they were being attacked...which led them to shutdown their news site...which would have told them about MJ.

    What if this had happened in Soviet Russia?
    • by game kid (805301) on Sunday June 28, 2009 @08:15PM (#28508251) Homepage

      Michael Jackson would've attacked YOU with "google news" queries!

      • by Culture20 (968837)

        Michael Jackson would've attacked YOU with "google news" queries!

        I'm decades past MJ being interested, but still disturbed by the thought of him googling me.

        • by rts008 (812749)

          Well, being 'decades past'*, I would think you are safe...he was more into little boys I hear.

          But on a side note:
          After seeing picures of him in recent years, I have often wondered if we would ever know if he came back as a zombie, or was still his same self. He already looked like a zombie some years back!

          *I'm also decades past. I remember seeing him on TV when he was in single digit age as part of 'the Jackson Five', back when...never have cared for his music at all.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      What if this had happened in Soviet Russia?

      it'd be google.ru instead of google.com

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by nidarus (240160)

        What if this had happened in Soviet Russia?

        it'd be google.ru instead of google.com

        If Soviet Russia still existed, there would be no .ru TLD - it would be google.su

    • by MillionthMonkey (240664) on Sunday June 28, 2009 @08:34PM (#28508373)
      In Soviet Russia, when Michael Jackson overdoses, YOU are still dead on the news all next week
  • by BrunoBigfoot (996441) on Sunday June 28, 2009 @08:16PM (#28508259)
    a smooth criminal.
  • by 644bd346996 (1012333) on Sunday June 28, 2009 @08:28PM (#28508333)
    I've seen it reported many places that Google was one of the websites that was overwhelmed by traffic resulting from Jackson's death. The fact that this is not true, and that the traffic merely activated Google's self defense mechanisms, is rather enlightening - it reveals just how much more serious Google is. However, we should hope that Google's self defense mechanisms stay this benign, else we may be in trouble when McCartney finally kicks the bucket.
  • Good for google. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by moogied (1175879) on Sunday June 28, 2009 @08:29PM (#28508335)
    As much as everyone might think this is a big boo-boo by google, I say its a great job done by automated software. All systems should protect themselves from massive peaks in internet traffic in order to provide a base-line service. Twitter even pulled selected services off to keep up a minimum working level. The fact that it classified it as a "net attack" is a matter of terminology, not importance.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by cetialphav (246516)

      As much as everyone might think this is a big boo-boo by google, I say its a great job done by automated software.

      It is this kind of thing that always makes me suspicious of automated defences. These things usually generate a model of what is normal and interpret things that fall outside of normal as an attack. The problem is that sometimes the abnormal pattern that is seen is actually normal. It is completely predictable that a well known, controversial pop icon would generate a huge increase in traffic when he unexpectedly dies (he was planning a comeback concert tour). I'm not sure how an automated defence can h

  • by basementman (1475159) on Sunday June 28, 2009 @08:30PM (#28508341) Homepage
    Welcome to last week Slashdot, I was really hoping for you guys to drum up a connection between Billy Mays and technology news. Maybe a scientific study on the effectiveness of oxi clean, or the possibility of a law limiting television volume.
    • Obviously, this is a huge conspiracy. I mean, Billy May, Farrah Fawcet, and Michael Jackson? It can't possibly be a coincidence. And this comes at a time when Ron Paul is trying to get Congress to audit the Federal Reserve. Clearly, these deaths are intended to distract the media and voters before Ron Paul gets too close to the truth.

      Hmmm. If someone made a movie with this plot, I'd pay to go see it. Hopefully, I don't get knocked off for discovering the conspiracy because that is usually what happens

    • by baegucb (18706) on Monday June 29, 2009 @12:10AM (#28509707)

      from Consumerist:
      You have to wonder if before going to sleep last night, pitchman Billy Mays thought of Michael Jackson, Farrah Fawcett, and Ed McMahon, and said to himself one last time, "but wait, there's more!"

    • I cam here for exactly the same reason, to read about Billy Mays. I figured for SURE it would be posted by now. Slashdot fails to bring me the news thats important to me. Now excuse me while I race to the store to horde my favorite household gadgets, before the lack of a marketing campaign causes them to become unpopular, and become a whiter brighter spot in the history books.
  • Shrug (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Quothz (683368) on Sunday June 28, 2009 @08:33PM (#28508359) Journal
    No big deal. Google'd be stupid not to have a procedure to deal with a real attack. The only real consequence of a false positive is that they lost a little revenue, and they got to test their response in exchange. They sorted it out in less than half an hour. Probably they'll try to improve their detection systems as a result, I guess. I can't get excited about one search topic being blocked for half an hour as a result of heavy inquiry unless that topic is "directions to the nearest bomb shelter".
  • by dandart (1274360) on Sunday June 28, 2009 @08:34PM (#28508371)
    The media is just overreacting. He's just on Betelgeuse with Elvis.
  • Twitter is fragile (Score:5, Insightful)

    by JonasH (183422) on Sunday June 28, 2009 @08:39PM (#28508407) Homepage

    Twitter's infamous 'Fail Whale' was also called into action as servers at the micro-blogging site crashed as 66,000 Tweets were made within a 60-minute period.

    That's it? That's all it takes to bring Twitter to its knees? A measily 18 tweets per second? Do they manually transcribe the messages after having read that an air gap was the most effective security you could get? Or is the article plain wrong.

    Seriously confused here.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 28, 2009 @08:51PM (#28508507)

      Thats what happens when your site is based on Ruby...

      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Ruby on rails, which is like MJ on drugs - i.e. DEAD.

      • by treat (84622) on Monday June 29, 2009 @12:23AM (#28509785)

        Sadly, I saw Ruby and Ruby On Rails refused for multiple projects because of catastrophically poor benchmark results. I mean that Java, PHP, and Perl were all totally acceptable, and Ruby disqualified itself in performance. (thousands of times difference).

        Glad I never wasted time learning it.

    • That's it? That's all it takes to bring Twitter to its knees? A measily 18 tweets per second? Do they manually transcribe the messages after having read that an air gap was the most effective security you could get? Or is the article plain wrong.

      What do you think :)? For the record, when the MJ news was at its peak, the volume was more like 1000+ tweets per second on Michael Jackson alone, so I have no idea how the article got those numbers.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Solandri (704621)

        66,000 Tweets were made within a 60-minute period.

        That's it? That's all it takes to bring Twitter to its knees? A measily 18 tweets per second?

        For the record, when the MJ news was at its peak, the volume was more like 1000+ tweets per second on Michael Jackson alone, so I have no idea how the article got those numbers

        66,000 tweets per minute would give you 1100 tweets per second. So likely someone misheard or misspoke 66,000 tweets per minute as 66,000 tweets per hour.

        • 1100 entries per second at 140 bytes per message is 154,000 bytes per second, or 150kbps. Twitter fell over from *that* measly input level? Well, I don't know...maybe that's a lot for some people. To me, it's not much, and I'm not surprised what happened happened.
    • First, twitter didn't fail; twitter removed trending topics from the sidebar. You could still search but it was not giving you trends. I strongly suspect that this is because of the load on their database server trying to load in the new entires while serving data. While you may consider trending topics to be the end all be all of twitter it should at least be noted that it is a relatively new feature and twitter does have a tendency for very slow development.
  • if you type Jackson into Google, you can break The Internet.

    They were so close to the truth! [youtube.com]

  • by rob101 (809157) on Sunday June 28, 2009 @09:43PM (#28508809)
    If we take a step back and see what Sept. 11 did to CNN and now The Times website, we can see that the internet can suffer from its own major over-subscription of users to servers/services. Particularly in times of significant current events when almost every connencted user demands information from authoritative sources.

    And I'm sure the audience here is no stranger to the Slashdot/Schumaker-Levey effect?

    There needs to be a blend between the ability of peer to peer protocols (bittorrent?) to service and distribute massive amounts of content and HTTP. Such technology would permit the audience (or data sinks) to service itself in times of major crisis and permit the important information to reach people.
  • by I_am_Syrinx (461302) <I_am_syrinx@NOsPAm.hotmail.com> on Sunday June 28, 2009 @09:49PM (#28508851)
    "The Los Angeles Times web site also crashed soon after it broke the news of Jackson's death."

    It was actually TMZ.com that "broke" the news, many minutes before anyone else. The other news sites waited until someone they considered "legitimate" reported it before accepting it as fact. I guess they were trying to avoid a "Dewey defeats Truman" moment...
  • KABOOM! (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Now let's see if all the infomercials crash tonight due to the sudden death of Billy Mays.
  • I cannot even begin to describe how utterly nice it felt to know nothing more than he's dead and I don't have to be inundated with inane television coverage.

    I do think his funeral is going to be a bigger circus than the pope and Reagan combined.

  • Ok, couldn't resist.

    Just eat it. Your table manners are a crying shame... just eat it...
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HyfcOriVKBM [youtube.com]

  • TMZ Broke the news (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 28, 2009 @10:56PM (#28509211)

    TMZ broke the news of his death, not the LA Times. Let's give credit where credit is due.

  • I keep reading comments that it is "a sad state of affairs" that news of a celebrity's death has garnered much more response from the world then, say, news of a recent scientific breakthrough.

    The fact of the matter is, Michael Jackson is one of the most recognized persons in the world, and for quite a long time too. So what if he has contributed nothing/little to science? You think without music, art, and other culture we would be the same human beings? Art and music define us and advance us as much as science - why else would cavemen draw?

    So what if so-and-so was responsible for inventing solar-power, or discovered water on mars. That isn't affecting the majority of the poor population in Bangladesh. Yet, they ALL listen to Michael Jackson.

    Get over it.

  • News media web sites may have crashed under the strain, but all I had to do was wait a few hours and read the news on paper. Paper doesn't crash.

    Can't wait a few hours? Okay, switch the TV on and find a 24-hour news channel (even here in the channel-starved UK we get a choice of two). TV doesn't get slashdotted.

    Old media WINS in these situations. Sure you can't write comments for all to see at the end of a news bulletin, but then you don't have to read the inane rantings of the masses after every news bulle

  • by John Guilt (464909) on Monday June 29, 2009 @09:07AM (#28513009)
    Just launch a topic into the internets that is so interesting that the server[s] you wish to attack will presume that a DoS attack is in progress. Maybe via some sort of semi-popular forum....

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