On Google Timestamps–More to Ponder

First, pardon the lack of links: the Blogger tool for iPhone isn’t exactly friendly when it comes to its editor. I’ll provide some links when I’m back at a proper computer.

Yesterday I remarked about a curiosity in the Timestamps on Google results around the Boston bombing.

John (Irish) pointed me over to a similar scenario regarding time stamps on Facebook.

The article suggested that perhaps the Timestamps were the result of a commenter’s time zone difference. That is, the last-update time changes based on the time zone of the last person to comment. So, if somebody posts from Sri Lanka and someone comments a few moments later from Hawaii, then the last update time could be some 14 hours in the past.

But the logic doesn’t follow because the time stamps on Facebook are determined by the viewer’s locale based on the coordinated time from the FB databases.

In our Google search example, there were dates on the bombing articles that were off by several days…not just by up to 24 hours as would be the case with a simple time-zone synchronization flaw.

So, how could time stamps be skewed by so many days on Google search results?

One possibility is that those news sources knew about the event well-before it occurred.

I’m not putting on my tin-foil hat and neither should you.

A technical reason is that Google has a serious inconsistency in its NTP configuration across its datacenters which has led to many of its systems having time skew issues. Some of its indexers and databases appear to think that it’s April 8 (or older) when it was really April 15.

This type of problem is rather common due to a simple lack of understanding about how computers keep time and often complacency about managing very large numbers if computers. Clocks drift. Admins overlook NTP. Things are forgotten. It happens.

Even if that’s the case (I do think it is) it certainly does look suspicious.

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