Tue. Dec 10th, 2019

When Internet Crashes, So Does The Economy

Facebook, Messenger and Instagram apps are displayed on an iPhone on Wednesday, March 13, 2019, in New York. Facebook says it is aware of outages on its platforms including Facebook, Messenger and Instagram and is working to resolve the issue. (AP Photo/Jenny Kane) Photo Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

Facebook, Messenger and Instagram apps are displayed on an iPhone on Wednesday, March 13, 2019, in New York. Facebook says it is aware of outages on its platforms including Facebook, Messenger and Instagram and is working to resolve the issue. (AP Photo/Jenny Kane) Photo Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

The Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram crash two weeks ago wasn’t catastrophic for most people. While I noticed that I couldn’t see any images, for several hours I thought it was a browser error. Still, given that I have a relatively healthy regard for social media, I shrugged my shoulders and moved on with my work. I use the internet primarily for research and even though I do frequently write on social media, the jpeg crisis was minor for me compared to companies that depend on these outlets for advertising.

The BBC reported how this crisis adds up financially with Facebook facing “the possibility of refunds for advertisers” and many businesses reporting how Facebook Workplace is their only means of communication. And since March’s last major Facebook outage, companies like Wonghaus Ventures reported $10,000 in losses, as well as millions of other companies, were negatively affected by the loss of revenue and advertising potential. We are seeing with these minor crashes that the repercussions are far afield from simply the inability to post pictures of our lunch. Social media might be a secondary tool for most users, but for businesses, it can be the lifeblood of their public relations as it can be for those working in tandem with social media such as influencers who are not paid when outages occur.

Then I started to wonder what else could go wrong when any facet of the internet, to include social media, goes down. Take for instance the recent news of Tesla’s computer chip upgrades or its Autopilot 2 software which are automatically updated through the internet in what is an internet-connected gateway called OTA (over-the-air programming). I then began to wonder what sort of life and death events might occur because of internet outages or related technical glitches in the future.

Similarly, on 25 June 2009, when Michael Jackson’s death was announced, Google News, TMZ and Twitter crashed, an event that was not the first of its kind. Internet crashes were far more common in the dial-up connection era of 1997 before undersea fiber-optic cables were installed. But even then, catastrophe has befallen the fiber-optic lines around the planet from a copper-scavenging pensioner in Georgia who accidentally cut off the internet for all of Armenia or when a ship’s five-ton anchor in the Persian Gulf between the Emirates and Oman cut off the internet costing $12.5 million in damages to Telecom Egypt alone.

Let’s face it, when users can’t get to a particular website because it is “under maintenance” or we encounter a server error, most of us move on to another website or task due to time constraints and the fast-paced environment in which most humans function today. However, this is clearly an option for those of us whose work can move around such internet glitches. When lines are cut, servers crashed or hackers down a portal, millions of dollars—and more—are usually at stake. Today most online businesses are making money because of how rapidly and how many users can access company websites and interfaces. So, when incidents like Cloudflare’s outage earlier this month cause millions of sites to disappear, it’s simply not inconsequential.

Take for instance management platforms whose revenue is built on the ability of employees and management to access the platform such as Clear Review. The second the internet or a server breaks, companies like this stand to lose millions. Investors and clients alike count on the platform functioning, otherwise, there is no product. And the more we see companies function through online search engines and interactive databases such as product and review platforms like Trustpilot and GoodFirms the more it is vital that cloud computing services remain viable. And today with the expansion of the IoT (internet of things), the outage of the internet stands to affect even technology in the home which relies upon IoT sensors such as many smart home devices and wireless chargers. In fact, wireless chargers like the Prelude portable wireless charger will be the backbone of future systems as we witness the increasing adoption of the IoT in addition to the expansion of smart devices on the market.

Even formerly in-person services which have traditionally relied upon physical retail spaces have turned to the internet where the least likely of candidates for online sales have been realized.  In a surprise move for retailers earlier this month, major auto companies in the EU announced that they are rolling out online sales through pilot programs announced by Ford and Volkswagen. Soon following these two companies are Volvo, Alpine, Jaguar Land Rover, Mitsubishi, BMW and Mini. Hyundai already has an online sales system in the UK but this is yet to be rolled out in the rest of the EU. And in the US, AutoTrader and Earnhardt Auto Centersare just two of many used car sales companies taking over the online market where used car salespersons are pretty much regarded as one step below ambulance-chasing lawyers.

What is palpable in 2019 with the way we use the internet for business is that today there are more direct transactions performed online than there were at the turn of the century. We must necessarily change our attitudes towards online transactions and the information we furnish and similarly, businesses need to trust that the crash of millions of websites within a split second might soon be a thing of the past.