Google is to pull the plug on the consumer version of its Google+ social network after finally fessing that private profile data of at least 500,000 users may have been exposed to hundreds of external app developers.
The issue was discovered and fixed in March as part of a review of how the company shares data with other applications, Google said in a blog post, adding that no developer had exploited the vulnerability or misused data.
The flaw was similar to the way in which Cambridge Analytica accessed the information of millions of Facebook users but according to emails between Google executives, seen by the Wall Street Journal, the company stayed quiet about the error, fearing that it would invite comparisons to the Facebook scandal.
A Google memo said that revealing the flaw would mean it “coming into the spotlight alongside or even instead of Facebook, despite having stayed under the radar throughout the Cambridge Analytica scandal”.
Publicly the firm claims the issue was not serious enough to inform users.
“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.”
Launched in 2011 as a rival to Facebook, the company has previously been reluctant to share data on how often Google+ was used, but now, facing the fall out of exposed data, the firm has been keen to play down its importance, insisting that the site “has low usage and engagement: 90% of Google+ user sessions are less than five seconds”.
Google said it would continue to offer private Google+ powered networks for businesses currently using the software.
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