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Amazon’s AWS outage took down Adele, Netflix, and Tinder. It could’ve been worse

December 8, 2021, 6:01 PM UTC

The list of high-profile companies significantly impacted by Tuesday’s Amazon Web Services outage reads like a who’s-who of everyday 21st century brands: Netflix, Disney+, Ring, Robinhood, Instacart, Roku, McDonald’s, even Amazon itself.

Notably absent, however, from that roster: hospitals, emergency service providers, public utilities, government agencies, telecommunications companies, airlines, banking institutions.

While Tuesday’s five-hour outage served as our periodic reminder of the fragility of our Internet, it’s worth bearing in mind that the AWS issues appear to have primarily resulted in inconvenience, rather than catastrophe. None of the numerous media reports about the AWS disruption noted that essential public services were thrown off by the outage, limiting the scope of damage. 

Amazon hasn’t yet disclosed the full scope and cause of the disruption, though an internal communication obtained by Insider cited “a problem with several network devices within the internal AWS network” that were “receiving more traffic than they are able to process.”

Sure, it stinks that binge-watchers couldn’t immediately devour the first four episodes of Hawkeye. Spare a thought, too, for all those Tinder trollers who couldn’t feverishly swipe left and right on a Tuesday morning.

But nobody perished because they couldn’t immediately purchase tickets to Adele on Ticketmaster—though I think a little piece of my fiancée died when we didn’t make the all-important presale list. The world will go on without the Roomba sucking up your blueberry muffin crumbs (“I had to resort to getting a broom and dustpan. It was crazy,” one Angeleno told The Wall Street Journal, with what I can only hope was a heaping helping of sarcasm).

This isn’t meant to minimize the financial toll of Tuesday’s outage, which likely stretched into the hundreds of millions of dollars. The cyber risk start-up Cyence estimated that a four-hour AWS blip of vaguely similar scope in 2017 cost S&P 500 companies about $150 million. While McDonald’s surely can stomach a few less hamburgers sold, smaller companies that went offline Tuesday might feel more of the brunt.

Certainly, delivery of some essential products was delayed with Amazon warehouses virtually idled by the outage.

Nor should the AWS mess be overlooked for what it says about the need to improve back-up systems and layer redundancies. In addition, the outage surely will reinvigorate questions about decentralizing cloud computing, given that Amazon has about 40% of the worldwide market share and four tech giants combine to control another 40%, according to a 2020 Gartner report.

Yet the lack of society-rattling impact offers reassurance that our most vital institutions will stay protected through tech troubles. When the AWS outage hit airport-based systems at Southwest Airlines, for example, the company quickly shifted traffic to different servers, helping to avoid any flight disruptions, per the Associated Press.

As long as human error exists, outages will happen. And when they do, let’s hope they’re more minor inconvenience than major calamity.

Want to send thoughts or suggestions for Data Sheet? Drop me a line here.

Jacob Carpenter

NEWSWORTHY

Putting numbers to Apple’s core problem. Apple’s iPhone production fell about 20% short of initial plans and iPad manufacturing missed by about 50% in September and October due to widespread supply chain issues, Nikkei Asia reported Wednesday, citing interviews with industry executives and suppliers. The figures offer the clearest picture to date of Apple’s struggle to meet its production targets amid supply chain woes caused by COVID-19 and tensions between the U.S. and China. The challenges are expected to continue through the end of the year, with Apple on target to produce 83 million to 85 million iPhone 13 devices, short of its goal of at least 95 million.

Mr. Mosseri goes to Washington. Instagram chief Adam Mosseri on Wednesday afternoon will make his first appearance before Congress, facing a U.S. Senate subcommittee expected to grill him about the social media platform’s impact on children. The hearing follows the publication of leaked internal research showing that the mental health of some children, particularly teenage girls, can be harmed by excessive use of Instagram. Mosseri announced Tuesday the rollout of several new and upcoming changes aimed at improving the product for children, such as a “Taking A Break” feature designed to curb lengthy periods of scrolling. However, the Senate subcommittee’s top Republican called the ploy “a hollow product announcement,” according to Axios. 

Six more months of PJs to work. Meta employees in the U.S. and Canada will have the option to work from home until June under a new back-to-office plan announced Tuesday, The Wall Street Journal reported. The Facebook parent company becomes the second Big Tech outfit this month to push off its full return to offices, following Google’s announcement that it will delay its mid-January target for bringing back employees. Meta plans to reopen all of its offices by the end of January, but staff members won’t be required to return. The changes come as COVID-19 cases increase across large swaths of the Midwest and Northeast, and public health officials continue to research the impact of the Omicron variant.

More than a credit card company. Visa plans to push deeper into cryptocurrency, stablecoins and non-fungible tokens by offering consulting and advisory services to clients, CNBC reported Wednesday. The company plans to support financial institutions, retailers, and other organizations looking to break into new digital frontiers, sensing an opportunity to capitalize on their mainstream adoption. Visa has embraced cryptocurrency amid a push to decentralize financial services and limit the power of credit card giants. The company processed $3.5 billion in digital currency transactions during a recent 12-month stretch, a Visa executive said.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

Not quite as private as you thought. While Apple makes a big to-do about its renewed emphasis on privacy, the company is letting Snap, Facebook, and others bend its own rules for tracking iPhone users, The Financial Times reported Wednesday. Organizations interested in collecting iPhone data still can’t gather extensive, personalized info on each individual user, but they are obtaining anonymized, aggregate data that can be used to track the success of ad campaigns. Apple hasn’t exactly welcomed this interpretation of its privacy rules, but it hasn’t publicly pushed back on high-level tech executives who openly talk about the work-around.

From the article:

Snap has told investors that it plans to share data from its 306 million users—including those who ask Snap “not to track”—so advertisers can gain “a more complete, real-time view” on how ad campaigns are working. Any personally identifiable data will first be obfuscated and aggregated. 

Similarly, Facebook operations chief Sheryl Sandberg said the social media group was engaged in a “multiyear effort” to rebuild ad infrastructure “using more aggregate or anonymized data”.

These companies point out that Apple has told developers they “may not derive data from a device for the purpose of uniquely identifying it”. This means they can observe “signals” from an iPhone at a group level, enabling ads that can still be tailored to “cohorts” aligning with certain behavior but not associated with unique IDs.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

DeepMind debuts massive language A.I. that approaches human-level reading comprehension, by Jeremy Khan

Russia targets popular Tor anti-censorship tool in expansion of its crackdown on online expression, by David Meyer

A gynecologist asked Twitter how he should redesign his office. The answers he got were about deeper health care issues, by Kylie Logan

As the world reopens, can Zoom maintain its hold on face-to-face meetings?, by Fortune editors

Ethereum update defuses ‘difficulty bomb’ that could have stopped Ether crypto mining, by Chris Morris

Ralph Lauren ventures into the metaverse again by debuting digital fashion line on Roblox, by Martine Paris and Bloomberg

BEFORE YOU GO

Solitaire from the driver’s seat? Eating a messy cheeseburger, putting on lipstick in the mirror, shooting down enemy planes from your virtual fighter jet. All are potential reasons for distracted driving in 2021, now that the Tesla Model 3 allows you to play a trio of video games from your dashboard console while the car is in motion, The New York Times reported Tuesday. A warning pops up declaring that only passengers should play the games—Solitaire, Sky Force Reloaded, or The Battle of Polytopia: Moonrise—while the Tesla is in drive, but there’s nothing to stop an irresponsible operator from engaging. Needless to say, safety advocates have a few thoughts.

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