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Facebook outage shows why big tech firms should be broken up – EU commissioner

·4-min read

The Facebook outage which left billions of people unable to access the social network, Instagram or WhatsApp shows large tech firms should be broken up, the EU’s competition commissioner has said as the fallout from the incident continues.

Facebook was offline for more than five hours on Monday evening, taking the other services it owns – Instagram and WhatsApp with it – leaving billions of users without their regular means of communication.

The scale of the incident has sparked renewed calls for big technology platforms to be broken up and greater choice and competition offered to consumers, with EU competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager saying the incident highlighted the negative impact of big tech firms controlling large swathes of the online world.

“We need alternatives and choices in the tech market, and must not rely on a few big players, whoever they are,” she wrote on Twitter.

Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg has since apologised for the “disruption” caused by the outage.

The dominance of a handful of large social media and internet companies has come under scrutiny from competition watchdogs on a number of issues, with many campaigners in the UK, Europe and US urging governments and regulators to take steps to break up larger firms to prevent monopolies being created.

IT experts have also called on the tech industry to come up with better systems to prevent a single error from having such a wide impact.

Ms Vestager, who is also the European Commission’s executive vice-president for a Europe fit for the digital age, added that the incident showed it was also sometimes good to step away from social media and talk to people “offline”.

The dependence many have on social media was further highlighted by West Yorkshire Police, which said it received some 999 calls from the public over the outage as it urged people not to get in contact with the emergency services over such incidents.

“Yes, #Facebook was down last night for some time, and yes, unbelievably we had some calls on 999 about it,” its Contact Management Centre said on Twitter, adding that this was “not a police matter”.

Facebook blamed the outage on a “faulty configuration change” within its network, which as well as impacting its social platforms, is said to have also taken the company’s own internal tools offline, leaving staff unable to access communications tools.

It said in a statement: “Our engineering teams have learned that configuration changes on the backbone routers that coordinate network traffic between our data centres caused issues that interrupted this communication.

“This disruption to network traffic had a cascading effect on the way our data centres communicate, bringing our services to a halt.

“We want to make clear at this time we believe the root cause of this outage was a faulty configuration change. We also have no evidence that user data was compromised as a result of this downtime.”

The platform added it was working to understand more about the outage in order to “make our infrastructure more resilient”.

In an earlier statement posted to Twitter on Monday night, Facebook apologised for the outage and thanked its users around the world “for bearing with us”.

It said: “To the huge community of people and businesses around the world who depend on us: we’re sorry.

“We’ve been working hard to restore access to our apps and services and are happy to report they are coming back online now. Thank you for bearing with us.”

Facebook’s share price plummeted amid the outage, which also came the day after a whistleblower claimed in a US interview that the company prioritises its own interests over the public good.

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