The globally known Alphabet Inc. is shutting down its failed version of a social network platform, Google Plus. They are also tightening all data sharing policies after they announced on October 8th that the profile data of a minimum of 500,000 Google Plus users were exposed to hundreds of external developers.
Google stated in a blog post that an issue was found and patched over in late March during a review of Google’s data sharing with other applications. The investigation found that at the time, no developer had exploited or misused any consumer information.
According to a report from the Wall Street Journal, Google is choosing not to disclose the security issue because of fears of regulatory scrutiny. They cited unnamed sources and a memo that was prepared by Google’s legal and policy team for senior executives. The Journal reported that Google feared disclosure would have them primarily compared to the privacy issues Facebook Inc. has been dealing with, including the leak of user information to Cambridge Analytica. Beyond the blog post, Google declined to comment.
Also on October 8th, Google stated that under the review of the associated data, they didn’t meet any of the thresholds required for disclosing a breach. Security, privacy, and financial analysts are highly questioning Google’s decision.
Google Plus has struggled since its initial launch in 2011 and was the primary source to keep up with growing competition from Facebook Inc. At that time, Facebook ads were already pinpointing users according to their online activity. Google Plus “copied” Facebook by including status updates, news feeds, and allowing their users to organize their friend base by placing them into “circles.” Privacy issues and complex features failed to win over users.
Google followed Facebook’s lead and allowed outside developer applications access to some user data, with user’s permission. However, the bug that was disclosed on Monday, October 8th, was introduced via a software update. The information that was exposed was private and included email addresses, occupations, names, gender, age, and more according to Google’s blog post. Google was unable to say definitively how many Google Plus users were affected, as it said there are only two weeks of records stored.
The social network, Google Plus, is going to remain as an internal networking tool for organizations and developers that purchase Google’s G Suite, which is a collection of applications that let you create documents, spreadsheets, and presentations. Think of it as a Google version of the Microsoft Office Suite.
Google plans to withdraw the entirely free version of Google Plus in August. It’s possible that it could strengthen its case with United States policymakers and safety regulators that they shouldn’t be compared to Facebook. Facebook has faced a lot of heat over allegations that personal information of over 87 million Facebook users was unethically shared.
Multiple policies were introduced on Monday and are designed to hold back data that developers have access to. The Google Play Store apps are no longer allowed to access text message or call logs unless it’s the default app. Beginning next year, Gmail add-ons that are available to consumers are going to be banned from selling user information. There is also going to be a costly third-party security assessment for added precaution.