Google shutters the Google+ social network after Wall Street Journal reports a huge security lapse
A software glitch caused Google to expose the personal-profile data of hundreds of thousands of Google+ users, and managers there chose not to inform the public about the security lapse, according to a report Monday in The Wall Street Journal.
According to the newspaper, the glitch enabled outside developers to access the data between 2015 and March 2018. The glitch was fixed, and Google concluded that nothing nefarious was done with the information. Google+ was the company's response to Facebook. The service, however, never mustered much of a following or seriously challenged the top player in social networking.
The Journal reporters wrote that they reviewed a memo prepared by Google lawyers and policy experts who had warned that disclosing the glitch would cause "immediate regulatory interest" and "cause reputational damage."
They also said it would trigger comparisons with the scandal at Facebook that involved Cambridge Analytica. Google CEO Sundar Pichai was informed of the plan after the decision not to notify the public was made, according to The Journal's sources, who were described as people briefed on the incident.
Google didn't disclose security lapse
The potential loss of user data is one thing but not informing those who may be affected is quite another. This is exactly the kind of news Google didn't need right now. Regulators in the United States and in Europe have indicated their patience has worn thin with big tech companies.
Lawmakers in the European Union this year established new privacy and data-protection regulations. Many on this side of the Atlantic want their US counterparts to follow suit.
Big tech companies have come under scrutiny for a variety of reasons in recent years. One of the questions being asked in Washington DC is what Facebook, Google, Twitter, and the like are doing with their users' private information?
In addition, Google has been strongly criticized in recent weeks about building a search engine that would censor information as part of a possible entry into China. US President Donald Trump has also accused Google of rigging search results to make his administration look bad and to silence voices on the political right.
In Google's blog post, while the company did not directly address The Journal's story, it said it had undertaken an effort, called Project Strobe, that would review "third-party developer access to Google account and Android device data."
'We discovered a bug'
The company acknowledged that as part of the Project Strobe audit, "we discovered a bug in one of the Google+ People APIs." Google confirmed that the bug provided third parties with access to user information. The company said however, that the information that was accessible consisted of a user's name, email address, occupation, gender and age.
"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 said in the blog post.
As for why Google didn't disclose the security lapse to the public, the company said it decided that the situation did not rise to that level.
"Our Privacy & Data Protection Office reviewed this issue," Google wrote in the post, "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 in this instance."
Article and image(s) via Business Insider