Google+ shuts down after bug releases private info

Photo courtesy of Google, Twitter

Google announced last week that it was shutting down its social network, Google+, because a bug in their software caused private information to become accessible to third parties.

Google said that up to 500,000 people were affected, and it was also made known to the public that they’ve been aware of this since March but did not disclose it because they were afraid they would draw regulatory scrutiny and cause reputational damage.

Launched in 2011, Google+ was released by Google’s parent company, Alphabet, to compete with Facebook but failed miserably. While shares in the company fell, Google announced a thorough set of data privacy measures that included permanently shutting down all customer functionality of Google+.

Between 2015 to March of 2018, a software glitch in the site allowed outside developers access to private Google+ data. After they discovered and fixed the issue, Google then decided not to talk about the incident to the public. They wanted to avoid comparisons to Facebook’s leaking of information to data firm Cambridge Analytica, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Google also released a statement, in which they say the issue was not serious enough to inform the public.

"Our Privacy and Data Protection Office reviewed this issue, looking at the type of data involved, whether we could accurately identify the users to inform, whether there was any evidence of misuse, and whether there were any actions a developer or user could take in response. None of these thresholds were met here."

Google said it found the bug as part of an internal review, where they examined access to user data from Google accounts by third-party software developers. The bug gave apps access to details like email addresses, gender, age, images, relationship statuses, places lived and occupations. Up to 438 applications on Google+ had access to this application program interface (API), but Google said it has no evidence any developers were aware of the vulnerability.

Google has had several issues in the past over its data collection practices. The company was criticized in July because employees for third-party email apps could read your email if you combined those apps with your Gmail account. Also, the Associated Press revealed in August that Google was tracking users’ locations even if they turned off their phones’ location history setting.

While Google may not think this is a big deal, it is a huge deal for the public because we don’t know exactly what information was given out. We trust these sites to keep our information private, especially if that’s what they are promising us, and if they’re not doing that and not disclosing these breaches to the public, they should face some sort of punishment.

It’s not fair that ordinary citizens have to worry about who’s looking at their profiles and what they’re potentially taking. While Facebook was fined a ludicrous amount of money, I don’t think that’s particularly necessary when it comes to Google, but they should have to pay something.

Corporate giants think they can get away with anything, and it’s time we stand up against them to prove that they can’t take advantage of us and that we aren’t going to settle for anything less than we deserve.