Global tech giant, Google has announced that it will be shutting down its Google+ social network after news emerged that data from almost 500,000 users were exposed through a bug that was in its system for 2 years.
According to the Guardian UK, the company was reluctant to disclose to the general public that it had exposed user data, especially when it discovered this around the same time Facebook and its CEO Mark Zuckerberg were facing severe backlash for harvesting facebook users data for political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica. The tech company feared a regulatory audit of its activities, the sort that made Mark Zuckerberg appear before the US Congress a few months back.
In a memo released to the Wall Street Journal regarding the breach, Google’s policy and legal officials hinted they were trying to protect the reputation of Google CEO Sundar Pichai, and the Google company, and informing the public would lead to them “coming into the spotlight alongside or even instead of Facebook despite having stayed under the radar throughout the Cambridge Analytica scandal”.
The data leak affected 500,000 Google+accounts, and more than 400 third-party applications may have had access to users data. However, the global tech giant cannot know for sure if these applications really had access to the private information of its users, because it doesn’t keep logs of APIs for longer than two weeks.
“We found no evidence that any developer was aware of this bug, or abusing the API, and we found no evidence that any profile data was misused,” Google’s vice-president of engineering Ben Smith said.
The data leak of Google+ happened between 2015 and March 2018, before it was spotted and repaired by Google’s internal auditors. Company Chief Executive Sundar Pinchai was informed of the decision not to reveal the data breach to the public and to its users. Though there is no law on the US Federal level that requires companies to report data leaks, laws in the state of California, where the company is headquartered, requires companies to report data leaks if they contain private information of users.
The immediate outcome of this news was that shareholders were uncertain about their investments; shares of Google’s parent company Alphabet Inc were down 1.5 percent at $1150.75. However, the data breach shouldn’t have the same effect as the Facebook controversy earlier this year. For a social network that was touted as Google’s answer to Facebook in 2011, Google+ had only 395 million monthly active users as of 2018, compared to Facebook’s 1.4 billion daily active users. And this probably contributed to Google executives concluding that any uproar will not be worth it.