If you conducted a Google search between 9:30am and 10:25 am (EST) on Saturday, January 31st, you would have seen Google label all the search results as "This site may harm your computer." Google admitted it was a human mistake. How did it happen? Here is how Google explained it:
We maintain a list of such sites through both manual and automated methods. We work with a non-profit called StopBadware.org to come up with criteria for maintaining this list, and to provide simple processes for webmasters to remove their site from the list.
We periodically update that list and released one such update to 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.
In the meantime, the whole internet went berserk. There were thousands of posts in forums across the web, asking what this was all about. Thousands of webmasters posted with concern that their site had malware or Google mistakenly marked their sites as having malware. For 40 minutes or so, the Internet world was feeling very vulnerable due to this mistake. We even have tons of coverage at Techmeme.
What is a bit comical, is receiving 85 comments within 30 minutes on a post I wrote a week ago named Your Site May Harm Your Computer? Get That Google Label Removed In Hours.
Here are just some of the many discussion forums discussing this, now resolved, issue:
- PLEASE READ: Your site might not have malware, Google Webmaster Help
- My site was remove using webmaster tools, Google Webmaster Help
- "This site may harm your computer" bug in search result!!!, DigitalPoint Forums
- Early April Fool's?, HighRankings Forums
- Google Glitch Marks all Sites "This site may harm your computer", WebmasterWorld
- Google Webmaster Error Now!!!!, DigitalPoint Forums
- Errors all over Google SERPS - This site may harm your computer, Sphinn
- You have Incentive Based ads.. Oh yes you do! - Search Engine Watch Forums, Search Engine Watch Forums