October 25, 2018

THE FALL OF GOOGLE PLUS & THE DEBATE ON USER PRIVACY

In a blog post released on 8th of October, 2018, Google announced the closure of its social networking site Google+. Shares of Alphabet, its parent company, fell by 1.23% after the announcement. While most people saw it coming, owing to its poor performance over the years, the revelation of a security breach was the final nail in the coffin. Google+ service will now be shut down over a period of 10 months.
In the blog post, it was revealed that Google failed to protect the profile details of its user and the massive security breach was discovered and hence remedied during March this year. The bug that was responsible for the breach was found to allow apps to access profiles that and obtain static fields like name, age, occupation, gender, etc. However, it was assured that no information from Google+ posts was part of the leak. It was also mentioned that although user data was exposed, there is no evidence to prove that any third party tried to access it.

Is It Really The End ?

The Google+ shutdown is a part of Project Strobe which the company describes as a “root-and-branch review” of third party access to data, apps’ data access and other privacy concerns. Nevertheless, this is only the end for the consumer version of Google+ and the version for Enterprise users will still continue to operate. The company also admitted to low user engagement on the consumer version as the reason for the closure and noted that 90% user sessions lasted for just less than 5 seconds. However, it will still continue to operate as an internal social networking platform within enterprises. Google, hence, vowed to introduce more enterprise-focused features for Google+ in the near future.

Privacy Concerns And The Way Ahead

After the Cambridge Analytica scandal, the general public has become more cautious as to how their data is being used by technology companies. In such a scenario the Google+ shutdown was long incoming. According to a Wall Street Journal report, Google came to know about the breach way back in March but failed to inform its users until October. It was Wall Street Journal that first broke the news. Google thereafter defended themselves by saying that the issue did not meet certain thresholds and thus was not grave enough to inform the public. In the wake of data scandals, this is a weak defense at best. Since its inception, Google+ for consumers was a failed attempt in its quest to compete with Facebook. As Google+ will continue with the Enterprise version, it is worth enquiring whether concerns for users’ privacy are genuine or they stem up only when a major scandal hits a company. There is an absence of transparency regarding data use and abuse on the part of most tech companies. Hence, Google’s ‘holier than thou’ attitude is a little hard to believe. In such an environment, it is highly doubtful whether the privacy and security concerns of the consumers are actually a priority for tech companies.

 

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