Here's why almost 170,000 Valentine's Day texts arrived nine months late

Key Points
  • Nearly 170,000 people on a variety of major U.S. carriers received Valentine's Day messages this Wednesday, nearly nine months late.
  • The problem was a server outage at Syniverse, a company that provides back-end services for SMS in the U.S.
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Valentine's Day text messages arrived eight months late Wednesday for more than 168,000 people because of a faulty server at a company that serves as a third-party data servicer for large telecoms, the vendor said Thursday.

The incident sparked bemusement on Twitter, annoyance from some who were awakened late at night by the errant messages and sadness from some who said they received texts from their deceased loved ones.

The incident gives consumers a quick glimpse into the expansive world of third-party companies that essentially package, ship, facilitate, and otherwise organize the billions of text messages and mobile payments sent through more well-known mobile carriers on a daily basis.

The third-party provider, Syniverse, is one of many companies that make up the complex web of intermediaries in the mobile carrier world. The company said a server went offline on Feb. 14, 2019. When it was brought back online on Wednesday, more than 168,000 messages were immediately sent out from a backed-up queue dating to Valentine's Day. The company could not immediately be reached for comment on what took so long to get the server back online.

Syniverse said in a statement it typically retains messages for only 24 to 72 hours, a retention policy that was inadvertently circumvented by the downed server.

The company also provides security services for its telecom clients. Users of most major U.S. mobile carriers reported being affected by the incident.

Syniverse competes with hundreds of other third-party data "facilitators" that most consumers haven't heard of -- names like Subex, Tyntec, Starhome Mach, OnMobile and ImIMobile, among many others. Some of these companies work with cloud providers, others specialize in services that ensure data is transmitted in areas without network coverage. All of them touch consumer data in some way and often store it, a process that can lead to a rare occurrence like Wednesday's volley of ghost texts.

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