Apple Magazine - - Summary -

Google is still hav­ing trou­ble pro­tect­ing the personal in­for­ma­tion on its Plus ser­vice, prod­ding the com­pany to ac­cel­er­ate its plans to shut down a lit­tle-used so­cial net­work cre­ated to com­pete against Face­book.

A pri­vacy flaw that in­ad­ver­tently ex­posed the names, email ad­dresses, ages and other personal in­for­ma­tion of 52.5 mil­lion Google Plus users last month con­vinced Google to close the ser­vice in April in­stead of Au­gust, as pre­vi­ously an­nounced. Google re­vealed the new clo­sure date and its lat­est pri­vacy lapse in a Mon­day blog post.

It’s the sec­ond time in two months that Google has dis­closed the ex­is­tence of a prob­lem that en­abled unau­tho­rized ac­cess to Plus pro­files. In Oc­to­ber, the com­pany ac­knowl­edged find­ing a pri­vacy flaw af­fect­ing 500,000 Plus users that it waited more than six months to dis­close.

Google moved more quickly to own up to the most re­cent pri­vacy prob­lem on Plus. This time around, the names, email ad­dresses, ages and other personal in­for­ma­tion of the af­fected Plus users were ex­posed for six days in Novem­ber be­fore it was fixed. No fi­nan­cial in­for­ma­tion or pass­words were vis­i­ble to in­trud­ers, ac­cord­ing to Google. The com­pany also said it hasn’t seen ev­i­dence in­di­cat­ing that unau­tho­rized users who ac­cessed Plus through the in­ad­ver­tent peep­hole have missed used any of the personal in­for­ma­tion.

Even if the lat­est pri­vacy gaffe on Plus didn’t cause any ma­jor dam­age, it nev­er­the­less marks an­other em­bar­rass­ing in­ci­dent for Google. The com­pany’s busi­ness model re­lies on it be­ing seen as a trust­wor­thy guardian of the personal in­for­ma­tion it col­lects about the bil­lions of peo­ple who use its search en­gine, Gmail, Chrome browser, maps, and An­droid soft­ware for smart­phones.

Like Face­book, Google makes most of its money by sell­ing ads that draw upon what the com­pany learns about the in­ter­ests, habits and lo­ca­tions of peo­ple while they’re us­ing its free ser­vices.

Google’s pri­vacy is­sues on Plus are likely to be a topic that U.S. law­mak­ers delve into Tues­day, when com­pany CEO Sun­dar Pichai is sched­uled to ap­pear be­fore a House com­mit­tee.

Pichai’s ap­pear­ance comes more than three months af­ter he turned down an in­vi­ta­tion to tes­tify in Au­gust, to the con­ster­na­tion of some law­mak­ers. Some mem­bers of Congress are now mulling whether tougher reg­u­la­tions to curb the power of Google, Face­book and other tech­nol­ogy com­pa­nies are needed in ad­di­tion de­mand­ing tighter con­trols over dig­i­tal pri­vacy.

Face­book has had even more trou­ble guard­ing the personal in­for­ma­tion that it scoops up on its so­cial net­work­ing ser­vice, which now has more than 2.2 bil­lion users. The most glar­ing break­down emerged in March when Face­book ac­knowl­edged the personal in­for­ma­tion of as many as 87 mil­lion of its users had been shared with Cam­bridge An­a­lyt­ica, a data min­ing firm af­fil­i­ated with Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s 2016 cam­paign.

The de­sire to peer into peo­ple’s lives is one of the rea­sons that Google launched Plus in 2011. It was sup­posed to be a chal­lenger to Face­book’s so­cial net­work, but Plus turned into a dig­i­tal ghost town that Google be­gan to de-em­pha­size sev­eral years ago.

Im­age: Eric Ris­berg

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