Google said it ill shut down the consumer version of its failed social network Google+ and tighten its data sharing policies after announcing that private profile data of at least 500,000 users may have been exposed to hundreds of external developers.
A report in the Wall Street Journal said the company knew about the matter in March but did not disclose it due to fears of regulatory scrutiny. A software glitch on Google+ gave outside developers potential access to private data between 2015 and March 2018, when it was finally fixed.
Google feared disclosure would invite comparison to Facebook’s leak of user information to data firm Cambridge Analytica, the Journal reported, adding that Chief Executive Sundar Pichai had been briefed on the issue.
While security and privacy experts and financial analysts questioned the decision, in a statement, Google said it believed the problem was not serious enough to inform the public. “Our Privacy and Data Protection Office reviewed this issue, looking at the type of data involved, whether we could accurately identify the users to inform, whether there was any evidence of misuse, and whether there were any actions a developer or user could take in response,” it said. “None of these thresholds were met here.”
Google+ launched in 2011 as direct competition from Facebook relied on the data sharing model of friends, likes and online activity. Despiye that Google+ and the company’s other experiments with social media struggled to win over users because of complicated features and privacy mishaps.
Facebook introduced a feature that allowed users to connect their accounts with their profiles on dating, music and other apps. Google followed suit, letting outside developers access some Google+ data with users’ permission. The bug disclosed on Monday, introduced in a software update, exposed private data including name, email address, occupation, gender and age, Google said. It could not definitely say how many users were affected because it said it keeps only two weeks of such records.
Google+ will remain an internal networking option for organizations that buy Google’s G Suite, a bundle of apps for creating documents, spreadsheets and presentations.