What Now For Google Plus Users?

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Google ‘hangouts’ its social network experiment, leaving consumers with less than a year before switch off

Google is in all types of hot water over its decision not to reveal a data breach in its social network Google+ that exposed the private data of up to 500,000 users, to hundreds of third-party app developers.

Earlier this week Google said it had uncovered the breach in March this year, but according to the Wall Street Journal, it had decided not to make it public because it would attract unwanted regulatory attention.

This delay has caused a lot of anger, and has even led US senators to ask Google to explain why it delayed disclosing vulnerabilities with its Google+ social network.

 

Plugging the plug

Indeed, according to Reuters, Alphabet has been sent a letter from Senator John Thune, who chairs the Commerce Committee, and two other senators to ask Google to explain a reported delay in disclosing the issue.

“Google must be more forthcoming with the public and lawmakers if the company is to maintain or regain the trust of the users of its services,” the letter said.

But amid the controversy of the firm allegedly hiding the data breach, Ben Smith, VP of Engineering at Google also announced in a blog post that it would shut down Google+ (for consumers) because of low user engagement.

In the post, Google said at the start of the year it began what it called ‘Project Strobe’, which was a “a root-and-branch review of third-party developer access to Google account and Android device data and of our philosophy around apps’ data access.”

Its first finding was that there was “significant challenges in creating and maintaining a successful Google+ product that meets consumers’ expectations.”

So Google has essentially decided to pull the plug on the product, at least for consumers.

“We are shutting down Google+ for consumers,” said Smith. “Over the years we’ve received feedback that people want to better understand how to control the data they choose to share with apps on Google+. So as part of Project Strobe, one of our first priorities was to closely review all the APIs associated with Google+.”

Enterprise version

“This review crystallized what 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,” said Smith.

“The consumer version of Google+ currently has low usage and engagement: 90 percent of Google+ user sessions are less than five seconds.”

As it currently stands, Google+ is scheduled for shutdown for consumers in August 2019, so users have less than a year to download and save any data they want to retain.

But it seems that Google will maintain the product for the enterprise sector.

“At the same time, we have many enterprise customers who are finding great value in using Google+ within their companies,” said Smith.

“Our review showed that Google+ is better suited as an enterprise product where co-workers can engage in internal discussions on a secure corporate social network,” he wrote. “We’ve decided to focus on our enterprise efforts and will be launching new features purpose-built for businesses. We will share more information in the coming days.”

Facebook rival

It should be remembered that Google+ was intended to be a rival to the mighty Facebook (despite Google’s claims to the contrary).

The Google+ arrival saw it replace its previous incarnation, namely Google Buzz.

When Google+ was launched on June 2011, things seemed initially promising, but the truth was that the product never came close to matching the number of users that Facebook enjoyed.

Indeed, as Facebook’s growth continued unchecked over the years, it seemed that Google+ was being quietly retired by the search engine giant.

Matters were not helped when Vivek “Vic” Gundotra, the man responsible for Google+, announced his resignation in April 2014 amid rumours that Google was scaling down its social networking project.

Google had also angered many users when it integrated YouTube accounts with Google+. It later reserved that decision.

But the search engine gave Google+ a facelift in 2015 as the firm sought to continue shifting its focus away from people and more towards personal interests and communities.

Yet despite that, Google+ struggled to attract new users outside of a dedicated fanbase, making its decision to pull the plug on the consumer version an easy one to make.

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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