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Oops: Google Talk Messages Reach Wrong Recipients

Oops: Google Talk Messages Reach Wrong Recipients
By Nancy Owano

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At Google headquarters, techies considered the possibility that users of Google Talk who did not upgrade to Google's new Hangouts were the ones affected by the IM mix-ups. While Google's own details of what caused the mess were not yet online, an email went out saying Google had identified the problem, stopped it, and was applying a fix.
 

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Imagine your worst digital nightmare: Your message to co-worker Sam that Larry is being cut by Friday goes to Sam, and Larry, and Larry's wife who works two floors down.

By Thursday, a global OMG went up and lasted for hours as Google Talk users worst nightmares came true. Unfortunately, there was no waking up because it wasn't a bad dream -- it was reality.

A Google misfire caused the Google Talk instant messaging service to send chat messages to the wrong recipients.

Reports from users discovering their messages were being received by people never intended to see those messages started pouring forth on Twitter and in Google product forums.

Defining Normal

Words like "terrifying" and frustrated reports of "just received a message from a contact sent to someone else" kept rolling in. The problem, based on user complaints posted online, appeared to have no set pattern. Rather, users experienced a hornet's nest of messages getting reshuffled. One victim reported that a chat intended for A went to B and when the user tried to tell B about it, C got the message.

With complaints snowballing, Google eventually felt the weight of an OMG pileup. Google engineers let their Google Talk users know that they were aware of a problem and that "Google Talk was gradually returning to normal." The question is, how normal was normal?

The Internet search giant's "Google Talk -- Service Details" page sent a logic-challenged message this morning timed 7:15 ET that said the "issue has been resolved and all services are gradually returning to normal. We will update when full service is restored." If the issue was resolved, why was full service not yet restored?

Three hours later on Thursday Google issued another head-scratching update, saying "We are continuing to investigate this issue. We will provide an update by 9/26/13 12:00 PM detailing when we expect to resolve the problem."

Sorry, Again

Outside Mountain View, meanwhile, techies considered the cause may be that users of Google Talk who did not bother to upgrade to Google's new Hangouts, introduced earlier this year, were the ones caught up in the mix-up. Hangouts provide messaging and video call features. In announcing Hangouts, Google told users they now had the option to switch from the current version of chat to Hangouts enabling both one-on-one chats and group chats.

In trying to pinpoint what caused Thursday's headaches, the thought was that a Google user trying to chat with users who had already upgraded to the Google Hangouts messaging platform were affected. While Google's own details of what caused the mess were not yet online, an email went out to various sites to comment on the situation, saying that Google had identified the problem, stopped it from recurring, and was applying a fix. "We're very sorry to anyone affected," the search giant said.

Sorry is a familiar word to Google users. Thursday's "sorry" comes a couple days after Monday's Gmail glitch. That issue caused users of Google's email service to experience delays sending and receiving messages as well as have problems with attachments.

"We'd like to start by apologizing -- we realize that our users rely on Gmail to be always available and always fast, and for several hours we didn't deliver," said Google"s Sabrina Farmer, senior site reliability engineering manager, in a Tuesday blog post. She said the message delivery delays were triggered by a dual network failure. "This is a very rare event in which two separate, redundant network paths both stop working at the same time."
 

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