Google+ Social Network Bites Dust amid Data Breach

John Lister's picture

Google is to shut its social network Google+. Although the service was something of a flop, the closure is more to do with a massive data exposure.

Google+ launched back in 2011 and was one of several attempts by the company to compete with the likes of Facebook. Its main selling point was the concept of Circles, which meant that users weren't restricted to sharing posts and updates with a fixed set of friends.

Instead, they could write a post that was seen by a particular group, such as work colleagues or people with a shared hobby. Facebook does have such a feature, but it's not as prominent or easy to find.

At its peak, Google+ was reported to have 540 million users. However, it appears the vast majority of these used it rarely if ever. Many users may have signed up either out of curiosity or because Google+ could be used as a one-stop authentication that allowed them to register and login to non-Google sites more easily.

Third Party Access Too Exposed

Google has now confirmed it discovered a significant bug in the APIs used on Google+. An API (application programming interface) provides a way to interface between one system (or device) to another (such as a website). For example, a bus company might have an API giving access to its timetables that could be used by sites which compare different travel options such as flying, driving or taking public transportation.

A bug in one of the API meant applications which used Google+ data had much more access than was intended. This meant details such as "name, email address, occupation, gender and age" could be discovered and linked. (Source:

In the wrong hands, such data could be used to attempt identify theft. It could also mean unwanted targeted advertising.

Many Visits Fleeting

Rather dramatically, Google is responding by shutting down Google+ completely. It's also tightening security on third-party access to Gmail (including requiring a security audit beforehand) and for Google Play apps for Android devices. (Source:

In making the announcement, Google did admit Google+ was doing particularly badly among consumers. It said that 90 percent of people who accessed a Google+ account did so for less than five seconds.

What's Your Opinion?

Have you ever used Google+? How useful did you find it? Was the service itself flawed, or did it simply not attract a critical mass of users that meant people joined because their friends were already on it?

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Dennis Faas's picture

I had to sign up for a Google+ account one time - I can't remember what for, but I was more or less forced into it in order to access something through Google. I never understood how to use it as a "social network" (compared to Facebook, for example) and most other accounts that I browsed through the network seemed to be pretty empty. I knew it would never take off, and I'm surprised it lasted this long.

Anyone remember MySpace?

sirpaultoo's picture

I thought G+ was pretty nice until Google tried to consolidate all their services under G+. That's when they lost me.
It makes me wonder how many of their other services have third-party access problems. I'm guessing everything that was consolidated under G+.
I'm sure the five seconds issue was Google's own doing - users logging in just to get elsewhere (Gmail, YouTube, other website logins, etc.). Just horribly mismanaged.