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11 Dec 2018 14:00

Bug Exposes Private Information of 50 Million Google+ Users

Google has responded by accelerating the closure of Google+ by 90 days

David Hughes
By David HughesStaff Writer

It emerged on Monday that Google+ has experienced yet another privacy exposure, this time affecting 50 million users.

Google has responded by announcing an acceleration of the social media platform’s retirement, prior to the original planned date in August.

This news follows Google’s decision to close the platform after an internal audit that took place in March of this year. The results revealed that more than 400 third-party applications may have improperly gathered the data of over 500,000 users.

This latest breach was said to be the result of a software update made on November 7 that contained a bug affecting a Google+ API. This was not a hack, but a case of app developers having improper access to otherwise undisclosed data that the user had specifically selected as not public.

This will be an added embarrassment to Google, which conceived Google+ as a competitor to Facebook. More seriously, it leads to more questions about the multinational’s ability to protect its users’ information despite thousands of employees and billions of dollars in investment.

It took Google five months to disclose the first, smaller exposure last month for fear of “immediate regulatory interest”, but its response this time has been much quicker, admitting that user data was available for six days in November before being fixed.

A blog post by Google Vice President for Product Management David Thacker said: “We have no evidence that the app developers that inadvertently had this access for six days were aware of it or misused it in any way.”

With Google CEO Sundar Pichai scheduled to appear before the House Judiciary Committee in the US on Tuesday, this latest breach is likely to make his appearance even more uncomfortable.

Following a series of tech scandals, the impression of negligent or rogue tech firms continues to entrench itself. Just how lawmakers intend to address this controversy, and whether any attempt to do so equates to proposed governmental regulation as Google fears, remains to be seen.