Yesterday was a rough day for Google. While it was bad enough that server issues took down Gmail, many users also reported major instability with Google’s Chrome browser. And we now know why.
“From our investigation, it appears the crashes were due to bugs in both the sync client and server,” Google said in a statement.
It’s vague, I agree, but fortunately Google software engineer Tim Steele had some more insight.
“It’s due to a backend service that sync servers depend on becoming overwhelmed, and sync servers responding to that by telling all clients to throttle all data types,” Steele wrote on the Chromium developer forum.
Sync is the service that allows users to copy their bookmarks, extensions, and even browsing history from one version of Chrome to another. It’s a major convenience to those who use the browser on multiple computers, but it’s clearly not without its share of crippling bugs.
While crashes happen all the time, this one was clearly a bit different: It was a server error that crashed software on users’ computers. It’s a brave new world, this cloud computing thing. And it’s kind of scary.
But it’s not exactly the first time we’ve seen this sort of thing happen. In August, Wired writer Mat Honan relayed the harrowing tale of how hackers infiltrated — among other services — his iCloud account, which allowed them to wipe the data off both his personal computer and iPhone.
If you want to talk about some of the downsides to the cloud, it doesn’t get much more down than this. While having ubiquitous access to all of our data is changing the way we use our computers, it’s also exposing us to a variety of new hazards, few of which we have any ability to fix directly.