Google To Shutter Google+

By Tracey Dowdy

Google has just announced it will close down its Google+ social media network after a security breach that compromised the accounts of 500,000 people using the site between 2015 and March 2018.

Google’s vice president of engineering, Ben Smith, announced their decision in a blog post – “Project Strobe: Protecting your data, improving our third-party APIs, and sunsetting consumer Google+.” In the post, Smith confirmed that Google found the “bug” back in March and patched the loophole immediately. “We discovered and immediately patched this bug in March 2018. We believe it occurred after launch as a result of the API’s interaction with a subsequent Google+ code change,” he says. Smith also states that they found no evidence that information was “mishandled” by any of the hundreds of third-party developers that may have had access to the user data.

Google+ was launched in 2011 to challenge Facebook but failed to garner a following and is now seen as one of Google’s biggest failures.

Of concern to many is that Google failed to disclose the breach to regulators because of fears regarding potential repercussions and the impact it could have on the media giant’s reputation, this according to findings by the Wall Street Journal. Google’s legal and policy staff sent a memo to senior executives clearly warning that disclosing the breach would put them at risk of the same level of scrutiny experienced by Facebook after its Cambridge Analytica scandal.

The bug was discovered during an internal review Google called “Project Strobe,” an audit designed to evaluate third-party software developers access to user data. The app allowed apps access to user’s Google+ information that can be marked as private, including gender, age, email address, and even images and places the user has lived. Up to 438 third party apps had access to this information, though again, Google assures users there’s no evidence these developers were aware of the privacy loophole nor did they take advantage of it.

Google has reason to be concerned about the impact the breach has on its reputation. Last July, they faced backlash after reports surfaced stating that employees of third-party email apps could read users’ emails if those apps integrated with a Gmail account. Then in August, the AP exposed Google for tracking users’ locations even after they’d turned off their phone’s location history setting.

Users have until the end of August 2019 to transfer information and shut down their accounts.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

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