This week’s IT snafus and snarls have a definite international flavor to them. The first story takes us to the U.K., and a story of some “crossed lines.”
O2 Customers Complain About Eavesdropping on Calls
Last Tuesday, the Register ran a story about some Birmingham, England-area customers of U.K. mobile provider O2 being able to listen in on calls apparently originating in Scotland. According to the Register, customers started to complain about the “crossed lines” the previous week, but the weekend was nearly over before O2 was even able to confirm that this eavesdropping was indeed happening. Still, said O2 to the Register on Monday, it was “unable to replicate the problem despite having received ‘a handful’ of complaints.’”
Then a story in the London Telegraph said that the problem had spread beyond Birmingham to Scotland, Wales, and Liverpool, and potentially involved anyone using the O2 network in the affected areas.
On Thursday, a Daily Mail story reported that O2 had traced the problem to a network cable and card. The Mail quoted an O2 spokesperson as saying that, “We had a problem with a network card responsible for transferring call traffic in the Birmingham area which resulted in a handful of customers experiencing crossed lines during phone conversations...Our engineers identified that a cable linked to the card was not working correctly and fixed the problem at 6.15pm on Tuesday. We have been monitoring the situation closely with no further reported issues. We apologise for any inconvenience caused to our customers.”
During the eavesdropping interlude, U.K. financial expert Martin Lewis warned O2 and other wireless customers to be careful what they said, especially concerning their financial and personal affairs. But according to the Register, this same problem has been intermittently reported by O2 customers since 2010, and Martin's opinion is probably good advice given that the U.K. security services want to snoop on all phone calls being made.
Birmingham UK Bus Passengers Free to Ride
Along with getting to listen in on other people’s phone conversations, Birmingham, England, bus passengers also got free rides on National Express West Midlands bus routes last Wednesday morning. The Birmingham Mail said that an error involving a software update affected the buses’ onboard ticket machines, preventing passengers from purchasing Daysaver and return tickets. As a result, bus drivers allowed riders to travel free during Wednesday’s morning rush.
However, the machines were still capable of issuing single (more expensive) journey tickets and bus passengers riding later in the day were required to purchase them if they did not already possess a Travelcard. This did not make those particular passengers happy. The software error seemed to have been fixed by Thursday.
Disk Failure Hits India’s ID Number Registration
Last March, IEEE Spectrum’s associate editor Josh Romero wrote an in-depth story on India’s attempt to issue national identity numbers to its 1.2 billion citizens. In the story, Romero wrote that, “the project is called Aadhaar, which means 'foundation' or 'support,' because it’s meant to be a fundamental technology platform that will enable dozens of new public and private services to be created.”
The IT project, considered to be one of the largest in the world, has numerous challenges. As Romero stated, “It’s easy to list major challenges: How exactly do you collect biometrics from every single person in the world’s second most populous country, especially those living at the margins? How do you keep bad data from getting into the database in a country rife with corruption? And how can you build the entire system around online authentication in a country where fewer than one in 20 people have access to the Internet?”
Well, another challenge related to the last was recently added on the list. The Hindustan Times reported last week that there has been “an error in disks in which enrollment data was stored and provided to unique identification authority for de-duplication—the technical process before Aadhaar number is created.” As a result, tens of thousands of Indians who enrolled for their ID number six months ago or longer will need to re-enroll.
Making matters a bit more complicated, the Times reports, is that “the government has remained silent on the technical failure and the only way to know about it was by logging on to the UIDAI [Unique Identification Authority of India] website.” As Romero notes, this might cause a problem for the majority of people.
Exactly how many people are affected by the disk problem is not known.
IBM’s New Zealand Virtual Server Services Go Out
Moving next to New Zealand, IBM’s New Zealand SmartCloud Virtual Server Services (VSS) were offline all day Monday and into today. The New Zealand Herald reported that IBM’s NZ$80 million data center at Highbrook Park South Auckland went offline due to an unexplained technical issue at about 3am local time Monday and according to ComputerWorld, was still not fixed by the end of the day Tuesday.
IBM opened the data center in May 2011 and promised “industry-leading IBM service-level agreements of 99.9% uptime that you can count on.” This is probably ringing a bit hollow to the numerous New Zealand companies, schools, and universities that the Herald reported as being dependent on IBM’s cloud.
AT&T Software Error Caused Problems in Nevada
Back in the U.S., television station KTVN reported that a software error disrupted AT&T landline, cell, and Internet service for its customers in the Reno, Sparks, and Carson City, Nevada, areas from last Monday afternoon into Wednesday evening. AT&T declined to say how many business and residential customers were affected by the error. Some emergency 911 calling capability was reportedly impaired, KTVN reported.
A story from the Reno-Gazette Journal also indicated that there was an unrelated AT&T hardware issue in the Carson City region that compounded the outage problem.
Al Jazeera America Confirms Sarah Palin Not Going to Do Commentary
Our final glitch of the week involves the Washington Post, which had to publish a “correction” to columnist Suzi Parker's story last week about Sarah Palin’s intriguing decision after leaving Fox News to join Al Jazeera America as a host and commentator.
The only trouble was that Palin had made no such decision, as Al Jazeera quickly confirmed.
What Parker did, according to a story at Politico, was to read but not recognize as satire a story about Palin leaving Fox News to join Al Jazeera that the Daily Currant (which advertises itself as "The Global Satirical Newspaper of Record") ran in early February. Needless to say, Parker got hammered for her mistake, and the Daily Currant got a lot of traffic.
The Daily Currant “reported” on Monday that Palin had decided not to join Al Jazerra after all, but instead had decided to accept a position at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard where she will teach four courses over the next three years, including:
- John Locke and the State of Exception: Extrajudicial Executive Action In the Age of Terror
- The Evolutionary Psychology of The Welfare State
- Pascal, Chateaubriand and The Modern U.S. Evangelical Movement
- The Geopolitics of Arctic Hydrocarbon Resource Development
According to a Palin spokesperson, the Currant said, “The governor was ‘thrilled’ to be working at Harvard, and hoped to bring a little ‘Wasilla main street’ to the Ivy Towers of America's most venerated university.”
We’ll see if anyone rises to the bait this time.
Robert N. Charette is a Contributing Editor to IEEE Spectrum and an acknowledged international authority on information technology and systems risk management. A self-described “risk ecologist,” he is interested in the intersections of business, political, technological, and societal risks. Charette is an award-winning author of multiple books and numerous articles on the subjects of risk management, project and program management, innovation, and entrepreneurship. A Life Senior Member of the IEEE, Charette was a recipient of the IEEE Computer Society’s Golden Core Award in 2008.