Google glitch floods Fresno banker's email inbox

The Fresno BeeJanuary 24, 2014 

For many business people, email is an invaluable tool. But for Fresno banker David Peck, a mysterious glitch in the inner workings of Google's Internet search engine turned his email inbox into a two-day nightmare.

"The night before last, I started receiving all these emails with no info, no subject line," Peck said Friday afternoon. "I thought maybe my Hotmail account had been hacked."

It got worse.

"Then suddenly it went from 200 an hour to 2,000 an hour to 3,000 an hour," he said. "Most of them were empty, but a few said '(expletive) you' or wanted to know who I was or why I sent them a message, and I didn't send any messages."

After talking with tech support representatives from Hotmail -- and being contacted by the tech blog TechCrunch -- Peck learned that people using Google's popular search engine were erroneously being provided with a link that generated messages to his email address. And he's still not altogether sure why.

"All I could find out and all I know at this point, if someone went to Google's search bar, typed in the word 'gmail' and hit enter, my email address came up," Peck said.

In an email Friday, Google described the problem as "a technical glitch (that was) happening for a few days," and not the result of hacking into its system. "It affected just a handful of email addresses, but we acted on it as soon as we found out."

"Due to a technical glitch, some email addresses on public webpages appeared too prominently in search results," the company's email said. "We've fixed the issue and are sorry for any inconvenience caused."

Peck said the problem was resolved Friday.

Google said the company had apologized to Peck -- a message on his phone from a company representative, he said.

Google said the tech hiccup that plagued Peck was unrelated to a widespread outage of its Gmail email system. From about 11 a.m. Pacific time Friday to shortly after noon, Gmail was unavailable to millions of users around the world, according to information posted on Google's customer-support page and reports on technology news websites, including Mashable.com and TechCrunch.com.

In 2012, Gmail became the largest email service in the world, surpassing 425 million users.

Google did not immediately disclose how many users were affected by the Gmail outage, but among those were companies -- including The Bee and its Sacramento-based parent The McClatchy Co. -- that rely on Google for its cloud-based email system.

A survey last year by InformationWeek reported that almost two-thirds of small businesses use Gmail, as well as about 30% of large companies.

The outage also affected other Google services, including Google Calendar, Google Drive document-sharing and storage, Google Groups, the Google+ social network, Google Voice and comment posting on the YouTube video service.

As of Friday evening, Google had not revealed the cause of the Gmail outage.

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6319, tsheehan@fresnobee.com or @tsheehan on Twitter.

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