Incident Of The Week: Google+ Shutting Down After Massive Data Leak Discovered

As Many As 500,000 Users Exposed

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Esther Shein

Although it probably shouldn’t have been, it was something of a shock to learn that Google’s social media site Google+. In the aftermath of the Cambridge Analytica and Facebook data breach revelations, now it’s Google’s turn to have egg on its face.

In this edition of Incident of the Week we take a look at the breach, in which the profile data of as many as 500,000 users was exposed due to a security flaw. The breach was actually discovered and patched in March 2018, according to a Google blog post this week.

Citing unnamed sources, The Wall Street Journal reported Monday that the search engine company opted not to disclose the bug to avoid additional regulatory scrutiny and reputational damage. The company was reportedly afraid the disclosure would invite comparison of Facebook’s leak of user information to Cambridge Analytica.

Google said it found “no evidence” that any data was misused. In a statement obtained by CNN Business, the company said, “Whenever user data may have been affected, we go beyond our legal requirements and apply several criteria focused on our users in determining whether to provide notice.”

The bug disclosed Monday occurred during a software update and exposed private data including names, email addresses, occupations, gender and age, Google said. The site will still be available as an internal networking platform for organizations that purchase Google’s G Suite, a set of apps to create documents, spreadsheets and presentations.

The company said it will close the consumer version of Google+ in August 2019, because it “currently has low usage and engagement: 90 percent of Google+ user sessions are less than five seconds.”

The site was launched in 2011 in an effort to compete against Facebook, with news feeds and the ability for users to post status updates and organize friends into groups it dubbed “circles.”

A former developer who worked on Google+ in 2013, told Reuters that new policies Google has introduced, including one on Monday to limit the data developers have access to so they can build mobile apps on the Google Play store, could strengthen the company. Chris Messina said these moves will make it hard for competing services to benefit from its data.