Google announced Monday it is shutting down the consumer version of its online social network after fixing a bug exposing private data in as many as 500,000 accounts. Google said it immediately fixed the security flaw and had not uncovered evidence that the information was mishandled by any of hundreds of third-party developers that may have had access to the user data. The problem was that this also gave those same developers access to the user's friends' non-public profiles.
While Google says there is no clear misuse of profile data that occurred as a result of this breach, MacMillan of the Journal says it raises questions about the company's commitment to user privacy. "None of these thresholds were met here".
To make matters worse, Google decided not to share knowledge of the data breach when it was discovered in March. The glitch was live for almost three years, according to the reports, but Google decided not to make the breach public because it feared regulation.
One of Google+'s People APIs allowed 438 external apps to obtain users' names, email addresses, occupations, genders and ages, even for accounts that were made private.
Google signed a consent decree with the FTC in 2011 to settle allegations that an earlier social media platform, Google Buzz, mishandled user data. No developer exploited the vulnerability or misused data, the company's review found.
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Allegedly, the glitch enabled outside developers to gain unauthorized access to the relevant for quite some time - from 2015 until Google's discovery in March of this year. The consumer version of Google+ now has low usage and engagement: "90% of Google+ user sessions are less than five seconds".
To save any of the data you shared on your Google+ account, including photos, visit Google Takeout's Download Your Data page, select Google+ (and any other Google products where you'd like an archive of your data). The Federal Trade Commission has repeatedly investigated privacy incidents at Google and other leading technology companies.
Google+ is finally shutting down on a particularly sour note.
The WSJ report and Google blog both agree that Google discovered the bug in spring of 2018, although the motivation for what happened afterwards differs.
Google will limit Android apps' ability to access SMS data, call logs, and contacts.