Gmail scared some of its users around the world Yesterday. A small emoji skull and crossbones appeared in the bottom left corner of their browser screen.
The skull worried a number of users due to its displaying of messages such as “Component Spy”, “Mole Component”, “Spy Data” and other worrying text. Weirdly, the skull was not present on all accounts, with users possessing multiple accounts reporting the skull only appearing in one of them. Nor was a change in browser able to free users from the skull’s reign of fear, with reports of its presence in Firefox, Chrome and Edge. The skull only seemed absent in the HTML version of the Gmail site.
As usual, theories on the origin of the skull were rampant on the Gmail help forums, ranging from a hack or breach on certain Gmail accounts, unsubtle spyware and even a bizarre plan to find new Google developers. Although, why any of these would use a skull image is unknown.
In the end, the problem was more mundane. The skull belongs to one of Google’s internal debuggers, which appears when flagging bugs, errors in code or email functionality. In a way, you could say that the skull was a bug in a debugger. The result is that Google will have to debug their debugger. At least Gmail users can rest easy that, spooky as it is, the skull poses no threat to their emails.