Published: Mon, October 08, 2018
Technology | By Lionel Gonzales

Google to overhaul privacy rules after discovering exposure of user data

Google to overhaul privacy rules after discovering exposure of user data

Shortly after the report was published, Google announced that it would be shutting down Google+ for consumers, seven years after it was launched, citing the incident as part of the cause.

Last month, Google Chief Privacy Officer Keith Enright - alongside representatives from other tech and telecom giants including Apple, Amazon and AT&T - testified before the Senate on privacy practices in Silicon Valley.

Writing in a blog post Monday, Google attempted to downplay the incident, saying it hasn't found any signs that the bug was exploited. "Given these challenges and the very low usage of the consumer version of Google+, we chose to sunset the consumer version of Google+".

Shares of Google's parent company, Alphabet Inc, were down 2.6% following the news.

As for what info was exposed, it's reported that "full names, email address, birth dates, gender, profile photos, placed lived, occupation, and relationship status" were all up for grabs. Info that was not exposed includes email messages, Google+ timeline posts, direct messages with other users, phone numbers and "any other type of communication data".

Along with this, Google will also force app developers to provide more detailed explanations of what it intends to do with your Google Account if it's requesting access to it. However, it says it has tracked down "up to 438" apps that may have used the API in question.

It said a bug in its software meant information that people believed was private had been accessible by third parties. While found and patched in March 2018, it was not disclosed until today.

As for the possible data exposure, Google found a bug in an API that developers could use that exposed profile data for up to 500,000 people, even if you had marked it as private.

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It also announced other security features. The office looks at what data was taken, what affected users need to be informed, if there was any evidence of data abuse, and whether or not users could effectively respond. They'll further limit these permissions by removing contact interaction data for the Android Contacts API.

Additionally, Google is limiting which apps can seek permission to users' consumer Gmail data.

What's more, Google says these apps will have to agree to new rules around handling Gmail data and will be subject to 'security assessments'.

Executives feared it would lead to 'us coming into the spotlight alongside or even instead of Facebook despite having stayed under the radar throughout the Cambridge Analytica scandal, ' an internal memo read.

The decision to not alert users was made after company officials wrote a memo concluding Google wasn't legally obligated to disclose the bug, and that there would be no point in telling users since the company had no way to confirm who was affected, according to The WSJ.

"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".

"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", Smith explains. Google+ will be gradually discontinued over the next ten months, with the service being scheduled to completely shut down in late August of 2019.

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