Facebook calamity shows how over-dependent we are on tech giants

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US internet company Facebook is responsible for two of the world’s major social media services as well as one of its biggest messaging platforms, so when it goes down everyone suffers.

Whether we like it or not, most of us are dependent on Facebook to some extent. Outside of Facebook itself and Instagram there are few social media alternatives with an equivalent user base, and thus utility, while WhatsApp is the default messaging service for much of the world. So when the company screws up so badly as to deny us the use of all three, the broader societal consequences are profound.

While we can always revert to SMS or whatever for messaging, we’re long past the time when social media was largely just a quirky platform for sharing cat memes. As Light Reading notes, many people rely on social media for their livelihoods and possibly even safety, so it’s no laughing matter then that commercial umbilicus is unilaterally denied them for an indefinite period.

“On October 4th, between approximately 15:40 UTC – 22:45 UTC, Facebook suffered one of the most severe and prolonged outages on record for a major application provider in terms of breadth and duration as Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp were offline and unavailable globally for more than seven hours,” said an emailed statement from Cisco ThousandEyes. “While the DNS failures could have caused the apps to go offline, Facebook’s large-scale BGP route withdrawals precipitating the incident, along with other signals, point to the possibility that the issue impacted Facebook more broadly.”

BGP stands for Border Gateway Protocol and is apparently the protocol that makes the internet work. So it looks like a bit of dicking about with the plumbing was enough to starve much of the world of important services for nearly all of a working day. Not ideal. That a company with the size and riches of Facebook should be so fundamentally exposed to human error, without any apparent redundancy or fail-safes, beggars belief.

It does, however, serve to dramatically illustrate modern society’s over-reliance on a few, unaccountable, US tech giants. What if a similar event happened at Amazon, Google or some other hyperscaler on whom the digital world relies? Twitter can be permitted a spot of schadenfreude at its competitor’s incompetence but one day the whole digital world will be paralysed by an event like this. Surely there need to be better protections in place to prevent that happening.

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