In Depth

Google+ data breach: shutdown brought forward as new leak exposes 52.5 million users

The social media service is ending in April, four months earlier than originally planned

Google has decided to pull the plug on its Google+ social network service early in response to a massive data leak that may impact 52.5 million users.

The search giant says the “recently” discovered bug, has exposed personal information including the names, email addresses, occupations and ages of Google+ users to third-party developers. It follows a similar data breach on the platform earlier this year.

In the latest leak, information set to “not public” had also been exposed to third parties, as has profile data “that had been shared with a specific user but was not shared publicly”, The Verge reports. 

According to The Daily Telegraph, the vulnerability resulted from a “software update” released onto the social network in November, with user data exposed for six days before the issue was rectified. 

Google insists that “no financial data, passwords or national identification numbers” were leaked, and says it will begin notifying users affected by the breach, the newspaper adds. 

The search giant has also confirmed that its social network service will be shut down in April - four months earlier than the original August deadline. 

“We understand that our ability to build reliable products that protect your data drives user trust,” said Google product management chief David Thacker. “We have begun the process of notifying consumer users and enterprise customers that were impacted by this bug.”

Launched in 2011 as a rival to Facebook, Google+ has been “lauded for its clean interface and useful photo features” yet “never gained the traction” required to pose a serious challenge to its rivals, says CNet

Google+ took another hit in October when it emerged that a software update had resulted in a bug that exposed the private information of 500,000 users to third parties.

The search engine came under fire from both users and critics after admitting that this data flaw had been discovered more than six months earlier, in March, the BBC says.

Internal memos revealed that the company “initially chose not to tell the public about the issue, fearing the possibility of regulatory scrutiny”, the broadcaster adds. 

What should users do next?

Google is in the process of informing Google+ users impacted by the breach. 

Although the company is pulling the plug on the service in four months, Digital Trends advises users to “abandon ship before you go down with it”.

To delete a Google+ account, users can go to the “Settings” menu through the www.plus.google.com link, the tech site says. Once in the settings menu, click on the “Account” tab and scroll down to “Delete Your Google+ Profile”.

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