Google is shutting down its Google+ social network following the disclosure of a software glitch within Google+ that resulted in the exposure of personal-profile data belonging to hundreds of thousands of Google+ users.
The glitch was live for close to three years, but Google elected to not make the breach public out of fear of regulation. This incident was first reported on Monday by the Wall Street Journal, claiming that the company chose not to disclose its findings when it first discovered and patched the bug in March 2018. The glitch was fixed and Google determined that nothing malicious was done with the leaked information.
Developers of “up to 438 applications” were able to access the personal information from users who opted to keep their details private. Information accessed in this breach includes users’ names, email addresses, occupations, gender, and age information. Google is adamant that no personal messages were accessed as a result of the bug.
The WSJ reviewed a memo arranged by Google lawyers and policy experts that cautioned that disclosing the vulnerability would cause “immediate regulatory interest” and even noted that disclosing the glitch would trigger comparisons to Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal. Sundar Pichai, Google CEO, was briefed on the privacy glitch and agreed with the decision to not inform the public of the incident.
Google's latest blog post does not directly address the security incident, but it does claim the company has taken on an effort called Project Strobe that would review third-party developer access to Google accounts and Android device data.
Google has since announced plans to shut down the consumer version of Google+. The service will be shut down over the next 10 months, with the final shut-down planned for August 2019. Google tried to play down the security incident by confessing the platform failed to gain traction beyond a small fan base. The company claimed, “The consumer version of Google+ currently has low usage and engagement: 90 percent of Google+ user sessions are less than five seconds.”