In a startling revelation, Google announced it will shut down Google+ after failing to disclose a user data breach.
In March of this year, Google discovered a bug in the API for Google+. Google+ is the technology giant’s Internet-based social network that was launched in June 2011 to compete against Facebook. The bug that was discovered not only allowed third-party app developers to access the data of users who had granted permission, but also of their friends.
At the time the bug was discovered, Facebook was undergoing global scrutiny for the revelation that over 50 million Facebook profiles had been harvested for Cambridge Analytica in a major data breach. In hopes of avoiding the same type of scrutiny, Google chose to keep its own data leak a secret.
According to a memo obtained by the Wall Street Journal, Google policy and legal officials wrote that disclosure of Google+’s data leak will likely result “in us coming into the spotlight alongside or even instead of Facebook despite having stayed under the radar throughout the Cambridge Analytica scandal.”
They also wrote that it “almost guarantees Sundar will testify before Congress” and that the disclosure would invite “immediate regulatory interest.” The mention of Sundar refers to Sundar Pichai, the CEO of Google.
Soon after the Wall Street Journal published its story, “Google Exposed User Data, Feared Repercussions of Disclosing to Public,” Google announced in a blog post that it will ‘sunset’ consumer access to Google+ and work to improve third-party APIs.
Per the blog post, written by Google Fellow and Vice President of Engineering Ben Smith, the profiles of up to 500,000 Google+ accounts may have been affected and over 400 different third-party applications may have had access to private information.
“We made Google+ with privacy in mind and therefore keep this API’s log data for only two weeks. That means we cannot confirm which users were impacted by this bug,” Smith wrote. “However, we ran a detailed analysis over the two weeks prior to patching the bug, and from that analysis, the Profiles of up to 500,000 Google+ accounts were potentially affected. Our analysis showed that up to 438 applications may have used this API.”
To give users plenty of time to download and migrate their data, the shutdown of Google+ will take place over a period of 10 months. It is set to be completed by the end of August 2019.