Google finally squashes IM bug

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Google finally zapped a scary and disconcerting glitch that caused its IM apps to route messages to the incorrect recipients.

Although Google said it repaired the delivery malfunction early Thursday morning, the company didn’t declare the problem fully solved until Friday at 2 p.m. EDT, more than 36 hours after the bug struck users of Talk, Chat, and Hangouts.

It’s not clear how many people were affected, but the bug is chilling because of its potential for personal and professional embarrassment and harm to people’s privacy.

In its latest update posted to the Apps Status site, Google stated simply: “The problem with Google Talk should be resolved. We apologize for the inconvenience and thank you for your patience and continued support.”

The update that preceded that one had been posted about 24 hours earlier, at 2:30 p.m. EDT on Thursday, and it contained vague and seemingly contradictory information.

For example, it didn’t even provide a basic description of the problem, whose nature became known only through complaints posted on discussion forums and social media outlets by frantic and horrified users.

Moreover, Thursday’s post stated that Google Talk had “already been restored for some users” although a previous status update had indicated the routing problem had been solved and that Talk and the other IM services could be used without fear of running into the glitch again.

In addition, the use of the verb “restored” seemed to imply that the IM services either went offline or were taken offline by Google, although it’s not clear that this happened.

The post also mentioned that Google was “currently applying a fix” and would announce when “full service is restored.” Adding to the confusion, the post referred only to Talk and not to the other Google IM services, so it’s not clear whether only Talk was getting fixed but not the others.

A Google spokeswoman said via email on Thursday that those affected were “some people using Google’s instant messaging services.” On Friday, she confirmed the issue had been fully resolved, but declined to clarify or comment further, saying the company is “still gathering information.”

According to Google, the IM apps malfunctioned between 1 a.m. and 4:30 a.m. EDT on Thursday.

The company hasn’t given an estimate of how many messages were delivered incorrectly and how many users were affected.

Users affected

Google’s IM services are used by individuals for personal communications and by businesses, schools, and government agencies as part of the company’s Google Apps communication and collaboration suite.

Several Google Apps administrators chimed in about the problem online, including one who called the incident “a really big deal” in a message posted on the official Google Chat discussion forum.

“Certainly, it shakes peoples’ confidence. Moreover, the fact that the [Apps Status] dashboard provides conflicting information really makes it feel like amateur hour at the Googleplex,” this person wrote on Thursday.

“Did they really find the problem and resolve it?” the admin added. “Google needs to provide some detailed information and over communicate on this to gain some trust/confidence that the issue is solved. My next step, I suppose, is to shut down chat altogether to avoid any further possibility of a breach of confidentiality.”

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