Many third-party apps, services and websites build on top of our various services to improve everyone’s phones, working life, and online experience. We strongly support this active ecosystem. But increasingly, its success depends on users knowing that their data is secure, and on developers having clear rules of the road.
At the beginning of this year, we started an effort called Project Strobe—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. This project looked at the operation of our privacy controls, platforms where users were not engaging with our APIs because of concerns around data privacy, areas where developers may have been granted overly broad access, and other areas in which our policies should be tightened.
We’re announcing the first four findings and actions from this review today.
Finding 1: There are significant challenges in creating and maintaining a successful Google+ product that meets consumers’ expectations.
Action 1: We are shutting down Google+ for consumers.
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+.
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. The consumer version of Google+ currently has low usage and engagement: 90 percent of Google+ user sessions are less than five seconds.
Our review showed that our Google+ APIs, and the associated controls for consumers, are challenging to develop and maintain. Underlining this, as part of our Project Strobe audit, we discovered a bug in one of the Google+ People APIs:
- Users can grant access to their Profile data, and the public Profile information of their friends, to Google+ apps, via the API.
- The bug meant that apps also had access to Profile fields that were shared with the user, but not marked as public.
- This data is limited to static, optional Google+ Profile fields including name, email address, occupation, gender and age. (See the full list on our developer site.) It does notinclude any other data you may have posted or connected to Google+ or any other service, like Google+ posts, messages, Google account data, phone numbers or G Suite content.
- We discovered and immediately patched this bug in March 2018. We believe it occurred after launch as a result of the API’s interaction with a subsequent Google+ code change.
- We made Google+ with privacy in mind and therefore keep this API’s log data for only two weeks. That means we cannot confirm which users were impacted by this bug. However, we ran a detailed analysis over the two weeks prior to patching the bug, and from that analysis, the Profiles of up to 500,000 Google+ accounts were potentially affected. Our analysis showed that up to 438 applications may have used this API.
- We found no evidence that any developer was aware of this bug, or abusing the API, and we found no evidence that any Profile data was misused.
Every year, we send millions of notifications to users about privacy and security bugs and issues. Whenever user data may have been affected, we go beyond our legal requirements and apply several criteria focused on our users in determining whether to provide notice.
Our Privacy & Data Protection Office reviewed this issue, looking at the type of data involved, whether we could accurately identify the users to inform, whether there was any evidence of misuse, and whether there were any actions a developer or user could take in response. None of these thresholds were met in this instance.
The review did highlight the significant challenges in creating and maintaining a successful Google+ that meets consumers’ expectations. Given these challenges and the very low usage of the consumer version of Google+, we decided to sunset the consumer version of Google+.
To give people a full opportunity to transition, we will implement this wind-down over a 10-month period, slated for completion by the end of next August. Over the coming months, we will provide consumers with additional information, including ways they can download and migrate their data.
At the same time, we have many enterprise customers who are finding great value in using Google+ within their companies. 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. Enterprise customers can set common access rules, and use central controls, for their entire organization. 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.
Read the rest of the report here.