For one curious minute, the most popular Web site in the world was owned by a 29-year-old MBA student in Massachusetts.
It was an hour past midnight, and Sanmay Ved was scrolling through Google’s own beta Web site registration service. Before enrolling at Babson College’s business school, Ved spent 5½ years working as an account strategist and display specialist for Google. He’s a self-avowed “fanboy” of the site, and often tries its new tools in his free time.
“I just wanted to see how the interface looks after you search for a domain,” Ved told The Washington Post. “And what’s the first domain that comes to everyone’s mind? Google.com, of course.”
After he typed this into the search bar, he was taken to a listing of purchase availabilities.
“Google.net,” “google.org,” “google.co” and “google.us” were all marked by a gray sad face, indicating that someone had already taken those sites. Quite inexplicably, however, the emoji next to “google.com” was happy and green.
Perturbed, Ved figured, “Maybe it’s a graphical issue. It can’t really be available.” He tried adding it to his cart. No error message came up. He tried checking out — again, no error. And then his credit card was charged the hefty $12 sum at which Google had priced its own Web site.
“I was really shocked,” Ved said. “I thought, ‘Did I really just do what I think I did?” Yet, as he notes in a LinkedIn post documenting the experience, “Quite clearly, ownership had been granted to me. Order was successful.”
With the purchase complete, Ved received two emails from Google Domains confirming his order. He then noticed that his Google Search Console had been updated to reflect new webmaster permissions for a “verified admin/verified owner” of Google.com. He began receiving notifications with the details of his domain purchase.
Yet just as suddenly as those messages came, another shortly followed.
“Your order from Google Domains has been cancelled,” Google wrote in an e-mail. “Your card was not charged.” In Ved’s transaction history, the description of his purchase noted that “registration failed because someone else registered the domain before we could complete your order.”
Except he had been charged, according to e-mails sent to him by Discover, the credit card company. The $12 was merely returned to his account.
The world’s balance restored with a swift refund, Ved realized that he had owned Google.com for just 60 seconds. But what a powerful 60 seconds it was.
“I could not change the homepage per se, or give the site a new look,” Ved said. “But I had access to make certain changes if I wanted to — access to any number of changes that a domain owner would have.”
Ved declined to comment on what he could have specifically done with the privileges, nor does he understand why it appears that Google very briefly lost ownership of its domain. Ever the honest netizen, he reported the incident to the company’s security team.
Last Thursday, Google got back to him with an undisclosed monetary prize for discovering a vulnerability in the system. This reward system is in place for anti-hackers who routinely hunt for and report bugs on major Web sites. A Google spokeswoman confirmed the reward to the Huffington Post.
Ved, who said he had “zero technical knowledge,” was taken aback. Contrary to some media reports, Ved told The Post, he’s not a would-be domain bounty hunter, scouring the Internet for lucrative loopholes. He conveyed this much to Google: “It was never about the money.”
Still, the search engine giant insisted, doubling the amount of their reward after Ved said he wanted to donate it to Art of Living’s education program in India, which provides free schooling to children living in poverty.
Given the grief that has befallen other major companies whose sites became exposed to outside interference — ahem, Ashley Madison and Sony — Google was perhaps grateful that their glitch had fallen in the hands of a loyal supporter.
After all, it appears that Ved loves Google a degree more than the average web surfer dependent on its services. His LinkedIn photo shows him wearing a Google fleece, while his Facebook profile picture is just a Google Plus logo.
Ved credits his bout of serendipity to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who visited Google headquarters during his tour of the U.S.
“The Indian Prime Minister’s visit to Facebook and Google to promote a digital India did work wonders,” Ved wrote. “The very next day of his visit, it ended up convincing Google to sell what is perhaps their most prized possession to a person hailing from the small city of Mandvi in the Kutch region of the Indian Prime Minister’s home state… :)”