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Software Failures in Recent History… like, actually recent history

Are you confused between Ponicode and CircleCI? It’s not you, it’s us. Ponicode was acquired by CircleCI as of March 2022. The content and material published prior to this date remains under Ponicode’s name. When in doubt: Ponicode = CircleCI.

To celebrate Bug Week, we thought we would take a look back at some of the more recent bug disasters that we’ve come across… We’ve all heard the story of the 1996 Ariane 5 explosion and of course the Therac-25 tragedy of the 80s where, sadly, human lives were lost. But what about more recent software failures? Software and technology have come on leaps and bounds in the past 20 years, so are bugs still as prominent and troublesome as in the past? 

Well, the answer is yes, absolutely. In fact, software failures are on the rise and still just as expensive. According to a joint project by Undo and Cambridge Judge Business School MBA, software failures cost the enterprise software market approximately $61B annually. It estimated that over 620 million developer hours a year are wasted on debugging software failures. I know what you’re thinking; why aren’t they using Ponicode to unit test and prevent wasting time debugging software? Honestly, my guess is as good as yours. 🦄 🦄

In February of this year, clients of the French bank LCL had their secrets revealed when, for an entire hour, they had access to the bank accounts of complete strangers instead of their own when using the mobile app! The bank has assured its customers that users were unable to make transfers from the strangers account during this glitch and the app was temporarily suspended as soon as the issue was raised. I’m glad I’m not an LCL customer… I really would hate for my employers to realise I spend 95% of my hard earned wages on food and wine. 

In 2019 British Airways customers had their flights disrupted - yes, again. A bug caused over 100 flight cancellations and 200 delays. The airline first reported the failure affecting short-haul flight check-in and departures at Heathrow, Gatwick and London City airports, but the knock-on impact was felt at airports across Europe. This comes not that long after a critical systems failure in 2017, the 6th one that year in fact. This particular one affected over 1,000 flights, British Airways call centres and the mobile app. Apparently the failure could have been avoided had they not laid off hundreds of their IT staff in 2016… ouch British Airways, this really hits home for us.

In 2015, after just thirteen years, the Washington State Department of Corrections finally realised that they had unintentionally given around 3,200 inmates early release since 2002! The bug in question existed in the system that was used to calculate sentence reductions for good behaviour, resulting in miscalculations in the reductions. If only Ponicode had existed then!

Gangnam Style broke YouTube in 2012

A few years ago up to 75 million items were reduced to just 1p on Amazon during a price glitch involving the tool RepricerExpress which Amazon uses to ‘auto-optimise’ prices on behalf of their retailers. The glitch mainly affected small, independent businesses and saw customers purchasing thousands of pounds worth of items for a fraction of the price. Sellers were forced to fulfil orders and unsurprisingly with Amazon being, you know, Amazon, they refused to compensate their sellers. We all love a good bargain but perhaps not when it comes at the expense of small business owners just a few weeks before Christmas. 

Then, back in 2015, as if divorce wasn’t tricky enough as it is, some divorced UK couples may have had to return to court to negotiate their separation agreements after a software glitch was discovered in ‘Form E’, an online form that details divorcee’s finances. There was only a problem if you filled the form in online and let it calculate the totals for you but it is still thought to have potentially affected up to 20,000 couples. Who knows, maybe some couples were reunited and realised what a mistake they’d made??

A multi state emergency service outage wreaked havoc across the States in 2014 when for 6 hours 911 went off the grid for over 11 million people. The incident affected 81 call dispatch centres, rendering emergency services inoperable in all of Washington and parts of North Carolina, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, California, Minnesota and Florida. Usually, an automated system assigns a unique identifying code to each incoming call before passing it on — a method of keeping track of phone calls as they move through the system. On this day, a bug in the software responsible for assigning the codes caused it to max out at a pre-set limit; the counter literally stopped counting at 40 million calls. As a result, the routing system stopped accepting new calls, leading to a bottleneck and a series of cascading failures elsewhere in the 911 infrastructure. Honestly, terrifying!

Gangnam Style ‘broke’ YouTube back in 2012. We all remember PSY’s catchy one-hit-wonder, but did you know that it got the most amount of views ever on YouTube? It got so many views in fact that it exceeded YouTube’s 32-bit integer which equates to about 2.15 billion views. Thankfully, YouTube has since upgraded to a 64-bit integer in anticipation of South Korea’s next global hit. This one will have to reach 9.22 quintillion views if it hopes to break YouTube again.

And finally, to wrap up this disastrous list of bugs we’re taking a loot at Chris Reynolds, whom PayPal accidentally made the richest man in the world - one million times over. One day Chris opened his email statement to see a balance of $92 quadrillion dollars in his PayPal account. This seems even more significant when you look at the wealthiest man in the world, Carlos Slim, who is worth a mere $73 billion. Of course PayPal quickly realised the programming error and rescinded the money from Chris’ account - or perhaps it was the missing 92 quadrillion dollars missing from their account that they noticed first? Either way, a whirlwind of a day for Chris Reynolds in Pennsylvania!

If you want to read more about code quality and avoiding bug disasters like the ones above then check out our article on the topic here! 🤖 🦄

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