Google seems to do nearly everything right, especially when it comes to security but one of their notable failures has been their social networking site Google+. Following a security lapse which exposed user information the company has decided to take Google+ offline making the announcement in a blog post Monday.


Google+ was their fourth attempt at developing a social networking platform. Launched in 2011, it allowed users to post photos and status updates, create different types of relationships (friends, coworkers, family…), location tagging, and a chat feature called Hangouts. Google+ experienced strong growth at first and was viewed as a threat by Facebook even into 2016. At its peak over 540 million users were on the platform and the acquisition of YouTube only seemed to make it poised for great success.

The problem was that anyone who had a Gmail account had access to Google+ which inflated user counts. People who used the platform found it was too similar to Facebook and since Facebook was already established it was hard to get users to come. Google was also slow to move to a mobile platform and focused too much on high-resolution photos, great for desktops but not for a mobile device. Not everyone in the company was behind the product and its chief developer left the company with no one in place to carry on.

The fall of Google+

Do you have a Google+ account? You might and you don’t even know it but for the most part the decision to shut down the platform is probably a long time coming. It has never been able to adequately compete with other platforms, particularly Facebook. 90% of all sessions last 5 seconds or less. The security lapse that was in the system for what could have been two years exposed the data of the nearly 500,000 users. The hole was patched in March and Google says there was no sign that any data was misused much less that anyone was aware of the issue outside of the company.

The issue gave potential developers access to private profile data and it is believed around 400 developers had access to the data though it is unknown if they took advantage of that. The glitch occurred between major redesigns of the platform in 2015 and 2018 and it was during the latter that the issue was found. Google did not disclose the issue due to fears of regulatory scrutiny. At first they attempted to determine which users were affected to notify them which proved to be a daunting task. In the end the best decision seemed to be to shut down the platform. Given the fallout of Cambridge Analytica following the 2016 election the fears of increased regulation were certainly based in reality. CEO Sundar Pichai according to a leaked memo to the Wall Street Journal (subscription required) made the decision not to notify users.

It has not been a good year for Google

Given all of the negative PR that Google has had in recent months this revelation is even more damaging. Between Project Dragonfly, the leaking of the company meeting following the 2016 election and not sending a representative to Congress for a September hearing (their top lawyer was rejected by the committee and president Larry Page sent written testimony instead) it has not been a good year, and that is not even mentioning James Damore’s now-infamous 2017 memo that sparked outrage on all sides of the Internet. With GDPR in Europe one has to wonder if their troubles are just beginning given the company’s contentious relationship with the European Parliament.

Not every part of Google+ will be shut down. Business accounts will remain open as many companies use it to facilitate internal communication. Eventually a more secure corporate social networking platform will be developed. The lapse in security is a major blow to Google who is known for having about as good of a security record as a major company can have. Hangouts is a key tool that we use at Nicely Done Sites so we will keep an eye on what is happening as we utilize this tool for both internal communications as well as communicating with our clients. For consumers their side of the site will be shut down over the next 10 months.

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