It took a major security breach that exposed the private data of hundreds of thousands of people using Google’s social network, Google+, for the company to finally announce what has been coming for a long time: Google+ is shutting down.
Here is what happened:
Google+, like other services like, for instance, Facebook, allows developers to use the service to facilitate user login. From the user’s end, this makes it easy and convenient to access various services on apps and across the world wide web.
How many services have you signed up to using your Google+ profile? Given the buzz that Google had created about Google+, quite a number of us must’ve used this.
Now, here’s the problem. When you allow third-party apps and services to access your Google+ profile information, like names and email addresses, which are necessary for whatever it is that the app needs to do, Google+, since it has this particular data, hands it over to the said app. For 3 years, not only was Google+ giving away the appropriate user data to other apps and services, it was also sharing the data belonging to those users’ friends. Or, as they say in Google+ speak, the people in one’s circles.
Google found out about this back in March and patched Google+ “immediately”.
To make matters worse, Google never disclosed its discovery to its users and the public, as is required. This is not only standard practice in other countries, it is also required by law (it is not in Kenya and the controversial data protection laws which are in their formative stage, are expected to address this). This, according to the company, is because it believed that none of the 438 applications it suspects could have used the particular channel responsible for the bug to access the data of the up to 500,000 Google+ users breached.
Launched in mid-2011 as an invite-only social network during its beta period just as I was beginning my college education, Google+ was not only expected to go where Orkut, Google Friend Connect and Google Buzz had failed to go i.e. give Facebook a run for its money, but also to usher Google into the new era of social-centred products through features like Hangouts, its video and chat messaging feature and a superior photos product.
7 years down the line, Google+ was all but dead. Yesterday’s announcement only formalized what we have known for a long time. Google even admits as much in the blog post announcing Google+’s demise released last night.
“…we’ve known for a while: that while our engineering teams have put a lot of effort and dedication into building Google+ over the years, it has not achieved broad consumer or developer adoption, and has seen limited user interaction with apps. The consumer version of Google+ currently has low usage and engagement: 90 percent of Google+ user sessions are less than five seconds.”
Efforts to revive user interest in Google+ which included pivoting to niche audiences interested in gathering/collecting things like images and wallpapers and the like, did not help. Neither did introducing new products built around it like messenger app Spaces which was based on Google+.
The social network’s most promising products like Photos, had long since become standalone products of their own that have even become much bigger than Google+. Hangouts, one of Google+’s most prolific gifts to the world, lives on as a zombie – still a darling among its user base and an important player in the enterprise market but no longer Google’s shining diamond. The search giant’s efforts, lately, have been spent on yet another batch of messaging products, including Allo, which was discontinued last year.
The straw that broke the camel’s back was when Google stopped including Google+ as part of the applications suite preloaded on every Android smartphone it certifies.
As a result of the security bug that eventually floored Google+, Google has announced a raft of far-reaching security measures that take effect almost immediately with the coming into effect of new Google Play policies.
“As part of today’s Google Play Developer Policy update, we’re announcing changes related to SMS and Call Log permissions. Some Android apps ask for permission to access a user’s phone (including call logs) and SMS data. Going forward, Google Play will limit which apps are allowed to ask for these permissions. Only an app that has been selected as a user’s default app for making calls or text messages will be able to access call logs and SMS, respectively.”
Additionally, “Going forward, consumers will get more fine-grained control over what account data they choose to share with each app. Instead of seeing all requested permissions in a single screen, apps will have to show you each requested permission, one at a time, within its own dialog box.”