Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Google Exposed Data of Half a Million Users Until March but Didn’t Disclose It Because They Feared ‘Regulatory Interest’

Douglas MacMillan and Robert MacMillan, Wall Street Journal:

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.

Chief Executive Sundar Pichai was briefed on the plan not to notify users after an internal committee had reached that decision, the people said.

That this disclosure wasn’t made until today — seven months after this breach was noticed — is unconscionable. But it is outrageous that the reason for not disclosing it in the first place was because they wanted to hide it from the law and that Pichai knew about it.

By the way, because Google tried so hard to make Google Plus work, it’s possible that your Google account — if you have one — is a Google Plus profile. You can disconnect it; Google calls it “downgrading”.

This is a fitting end to a bad product managed by people who were almost explicit in their intention for it to collect boatloads more information for advertisers.

Update: Brian McCullough:

Has anyone made this point yet? Pichai refused to testify to congress because he couldn’t. He would have either had to perjure himself or reveal this bug in real time before the committee.

I thought it was just strategic brilliance to let Facebook take all the heat. No, it was next level cowardice. One wonders if they really though they could whistle past the graveyard on this. In which case, also next level hubris.

Pichai is now scheduled to testify before Congress in November.

Update: Jack Wellborn:

I can’t help but think that by taking 7 months to publically disclose this breach, this incident makes Google seem somewhat hypocritical given their strict Project Zero policy to disclose vulnerabilities 90-days when patches aren’t released.