Google+, Google’s social network, to shut down after bug exposes users’ data

Google+, Google’s social network, to shut down after bug exposes users’ data

Google headquarters in Mountain View, California.

A bug in their Google+ People APIs, which potentially exposed the data of over 500.000 users and was promptly patched in March 2018. "We chose to sunset the consumer version of Google+", the company said in the post. According to their reporting, an internal committee at Google decided not to disclose the bug even though they were not 100% sure that it was not abused.

The private data of almost half a million Google+ users was exposed to third-party developers, and Google failed to notify anyone. The info that was possibly exposed was only name, email address, occupation, gender and age.

"The review did highlight the significant challenges in creating and maintaining a successful Google+ that meets consumers' expectations", Ben Smith, vice president of engineering, wrote in a blog post. Earlier this year, Facebook was unjustly considered guilty after a misbehaving third-party app developed by Cambridge Analytica collected troves of user data, which was later used in political campaigns.

The snafu threatens to give Google a black eye on privacy after public assurances that it was less susceptible to data gaffes like those that have befallen Facebook. Now, only apps that fit a particular use case will be able to access these permissions. Well, these plans even include permanently shutting down all consumer functionality of Google+.

Monday's report comes in the wake of Google CEO Sundar Pichai upcoming testimony before Congress over concerns the search engine is bias against conservatives. The service, however, never mustered much of a following or seriously challenged the top player in social networking.

However, Google+ failed to gain traction beyond a small fan base, despite multiple tweaks that shifted the focus on photo sharing, communities and other high-engagement applications. In fact, usage is pretty minimal on the site, with "90 percent of Google + user sessions" being "less than five seconds". The shutdown of Google+ won't happen immediately but will instead be a "wind-down" that ends in August 2019.

Lastly, Google says it'll be limiting access to its Gmail APIs and be stricter about what apps in the Play Store can access call logs and SMS permissions on Android devices. Specifically, third-party applications linked to G+ accounts "had access to Profile fields that were shared with the user, but not marked as public". It could not definitely say how many users were affected because it said it keeps only two weeks of such records. Even in that short amount of time, Google's audit found that almost half a million Google+ accounts could have been affected in just 14 days' worth of analysis.