The Australian Census

#CensusFail: Server for Australia's census collapsed

Actually, Australia's statistics authority wanted to count the country's population on Tuesday. To save money, the majority were supposed to enter their data online. But apparently too many people tried to do so at the same time: the servers collapsed.

Under the load of millions of citizens who wanted to fill out their census forms online after work, the servers of the Australian Bureau of Statistics collapsed on Tuesday evening. They will not be up and running again until Wednesday morning Australian time, the agency has since announced on Twitter. That is actually too late, but there will be - contrary to predictions - no penalties for citizens who fill out their form after August 9. Shortly before this admission, the statisticians had still called on citizens to participate in the census online.

Unrealistic expectations

In the run-up, the statistics authority had already announced that probably the majority of Australians - who are obliged to participate - would deposit their data via the Internet form. It had been expected that around 16 million would log in over the specified period of 24 hours. As reported by the ABC news channel, the authority had assured that it would be able to process one million forms per hour. But that would mean a comparatively even distribution of logins throughout the day - unrealistic for a workday. And so the systems broke down when significantly more people logged in at the same time after work.

Until then, the servers had apparently worked without any major errors, and Australia's Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, for example, was still able to tweet that his government had participated online. But then the access numbers rose beyond what could be handled and the systems could not scale sufficiently. As the Sydney Morning Herald explains, the statistics agency also cannot use international cloud providers for privacy reasons. In addition, all tests had apparently underestimated in advance how many people would try to log in at the same time.

Criticism from data protectionists

Australia actually has some experience with censuses, which are conducted every few years. The current census is the largest in the country's history and was due to be completed today, Tuesday. Those who did not want to fill out the questionnaire online were supposed to order a printed sheet. But already that had apparently tried more people than predicted by the authority: The telephone numbers switched for it were occupied around the clock. There was heavy criticism of the fact that, for the first time, the names and addresses of all 24 million inhabitants were to be stored for four years and linked to other databases.

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