On Monday, The Wall Street Journal reported that the private information of hundreds of thousands of the social media platform's users had been exposed to developers due to a software glitch, which the company discovered in March 2018 but decided not to disclose. It also found "no evidence that any developer was aware of this bug, or abusing the API", and it found "no evidence that any profile data was misused". The flaw exposed user data from 2015 until this past March, according to the report. Chief Executive Sundar Pichai was briefed on the plan not to notify users after an internal committee had reached that decision, the people said.
Monday morning in wake Journal's story, Google announced via a blog post that it had closed down Google+ for consumers and had undertaken an effort, called "Project Strobe", that would review third-party developer access to Google accounts and Android device data.
The company said the bug was located in the Google+ People API.
According to the Google+ Profile API documentation, profile fields can store a treasure trove of sensitive user details such as such as name, email address, occupation, gender, age, nickname, birthday, just to name a few. Google adds that it "cannot confirm" which users were affected, but over 500,000 of them could have been.
"The review did highlight the significant challenges in creating and maintaining a successful Google+ that meets consumers' expectations", Ben Smith, vice president of engineering, wrote in a blog post.
The enterprise version of Google+ is to continue.
The announcement comes as public scrutiny has intensified around Silicon Valley tech giants' management of user data, among other issues.
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What's more, Google says these apps will have to agree to new rules around handling Gmail data and will be subject to 'security assessments'. In July, the company was criticized after reports that employees for a third-party email app could read our emails if we integrated those apps with our Gmail account.
Over the coming months, Google will update users with additional information, including ways to download and migrate data. In other words, things like photos should not have been at risk. Google CEO Sundar Pichai reportedly is expected to take the hot seat in another congressional hearing after the USA midterm elections in November.
Google+ was launched in 2011, quickly becoming a failed attempt to compete with Facebook.
Despite the social network closing down, you can still take action. Google found out that the service had low user interaction as 90% of sessions ended in less than 5 seconds.
To make the closure of the service as seamless as possible, Google says it'll implement a "wind-down" period over the next 10 months with the goal to have everyone off Google+ and officially pull the plug by the end of August 2019.
Apps will be required to inform users what data they will have access to.