Google exposed the private data of hundreds of thousands of users of the Google+ social network and then opted not to disclose the issue this past spring, in part because of fears that doing so would draw regulatory scrutiny and cause reputational damage, according to people briefed on the incident and documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.
As part of its response to the incident, the Alphabet Inc. unit plans to announce a sweeping set of data privacy measures that include permanently shutting down all consumer functionality of Google+, the people said. The move effectively puts the final nail in the coffin of a product that was launched in 2011 to challenge Facebook Inc. and is widely seen as one of Google’s biggest failures.
A software glitch in the social site gave outside developers potential access to private Google+ profile data between 2015 and March 2018, when internal investigators discovered and fixed the issue, according to the documents and people briefed on the incident. A memo reviewed by the Journal prepared by Google’s legal and policy staff and shared with senior executives warned that disclosing the incident would likely trigger “immediate regulatory interest” and invite comparisons to Facebook’s leak of user information to data firm Cambridge Analytica.
This revelation raises the question: what other dirty laundry is the Monster of Mountain View hiding?
Google executives have clearly relished watching Facebook take incoming fire in the press on a near constant basis this year. It’s no wonder they didn’t want to come clean about their own failings. But if they truly lived by their internal motto of “don’t be evil”, then they would have disclosed this glitch in the interest of transparency. How they expected to keep it a secret indefinitely is anyone’s guess.
It’s good that Google+ is shutting down. But the company must not be allowed to wash its hands of this incident and walk away. There should be consequences.
The European Union and the United States government should launch immediate investigations into this matter and find out what other secrets Google may be keeping from its users and stockholders.