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What If Google Were to Go Dark?


With 25% of North American Web traffic served by Google, we might be overly reliant on the Internet giant.

All investors should care about Google (NASDAQ:GOOG), even those without any positions in the company. The magnitude of Google's impact on the Internet -- and, very likely, on your day-to-day business activities -- is immense.

One-quarter of North American online traffic runs through the services of Google each month, and an astounding 62% of devices connect to the company's services at least once a day, according to research from Deepfield, an Internet monitoring company based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The analysts who provided these numbers, however, didn't measure the strength of our personal and business attachment to Google and its services.

You don't have to be an analyst to realize that our attachment is fierce: In the US, Google sites recorded 192.6 million unique visitors in June 2013, leaving behind Yahoo (NASDAQ:YHOO) sites with 189 million and Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) sites with 175 million.

With over a million servers scattered around the globe and interconnected within an incredibly optimized and robust infrastructure, Google seems to be technically invincible – at least, to some extent.

But the bigger they are, the harder they fall.

The extreme complexity of Google's networks could also backfire, resulting in prolonged outages. Three events in recent history -- the Gmail blackout in 2009 that lasted more than two hours, the hour-long Gmail issue in 2012, and the recent 40-minute outage in July -- proved the rule: No human-made machine is indestructible or flawless.

So what would happen, and what should you do, if Google ever goes dark?

Its stock would drop, of course, when the scale of the problem surfaced. And, even more disappointing if you're an everyday user and not an investor, all of your documents (on Google Drive) and mail would just disappear, wreaking havoc on the communications of more than 350 million Gmail users and 5 million companies that use Google Apps for Business.

Microsoft's Office 365 might be a good alternative, or you still can use "old-fashioned" offline productivity suites like Microsoft Office or OpenOffice. And you have or Yahoo Mail as primary free email alternatives.

With Calendar down, you'll have to rely on services like Microsoft Outlook, Evernote, or even your own human memory.

In the case of a total outage, Google Search would surely die, too, though here you could always switch to Microsoft Bing or niche services like DuckDuckGo. Web users in China, Russia, and a few other nations would be covered by their respective local Web search services like Baidu (NASDAQ:BIDU) or Yandex (NASDAQ:YNDX).

If you run a business with an online component, nobody would see your ads on Google-run networks, which could hit your site's traffic hard. But since Google Analytics would be down, too, you probably wouldn't be able to measure the difference at the time.

Lost access to Google Voice calls and Google Hangouts? Try Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) Voice, Skype, or Viber instead. A good ol' phone might be a solution here, too.

Entertainment would suffer a great hit if Picasa or YouTube became nonoperational – how about Yahoo's Flickr or Vimeo instead?

You might get lost or stuck in traffic when Google Maps becomes inaccessible. That's not a huge deal, frankly; you might have some Gmaps cached on your device, or you'll need to turn to Apple Maps, Bing Maps powered by Nokia (NYSE:NOK), OpenStreetMap, or even those vintage paper maps.

What if your site or blog is hosted at Google Sites or Blogger? Too bad -- It's dead now, but there are plenty of alternatives like Wordpress or GoDaddy. Just make sure you have a local copy somewhere.

If you're one of the millions of active Orkuters or are hanging out on Google+ with 343 million other users, you'll probably miss the opportunity to connect with your friends. That won't be the end of the world, though, with Facebook, LinkedIn (NYSE:LNKD), Twitter, or whatever other social media sites have you covered.

Some services are harder to substitute. Tens of millions users who rely on Google Public DNS to essentially get access to the Internet would have to switch to something else – like their providers' DNS.

Things would get a bit trickier if you're one of the thousands of lucky Google Fiber users in Kansas City; you might have to switch to the other ISPs or use mobile Internet for a while.

No need to go through all the dozens and dozens of Google products and services (or hundreds, if you count the smallest ones) – you've got the picture already, right?

The good news is that the Android-based hardware, Chromebooks, Chromecasts, Google Glasses, offline versions of Google apps, and Google Chrome browser will still run, even though their functionality might suffer heavily (no Google Play, Drive access, voice searches, etc.).

Now take a deep breath. Exhale.

None of this had happened (yet); Google, with its massive reach and giant scale, is up and running at the moment.

While a lasting outage of Google and its services is highly unlikely – given Google's expected 99.9% uptime – it's still better to be safe than sorry, especially if you're dealing with markets and money.

Do your backups early and do them often, and know how (and where) to switch to other programs, servers, and software if something goes wrong. Make sure you have offline copies of critical documents at hand, and please don't rely too much on one particular cloud, even if it's operated by an Internet powerhouse like Google.

Just don't put all your eggs in one basket – and that's true for investments, too.

See also:

Apple Fights Off Samsung's Quadruple Bypass Hummer of a Phone

Stock Upgrades: Wall Street Does a Total About-Face on Facebook

In Insider Trading, Apollo Management Group Makes Two Major Sales, While eBay Sees a Purchase
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