Google has decided to shut down Google+ after discovering a data breach. How should we react to the news?
Not many of us were surprised to hear that Google+ will stop existing in a few months. The only surprise came in the way the news was revealed with Google announcing a data breach that led them to this decision.
Google has published a blog post last week mentioning that they discovered a bug in the API for Google+ that allowed third-party developers to access data of 500,000 users with unauthorized permission.
What’s interesting is that they didn’t disclose the breach back in March when they discovered it and they only brought it to the public after The Wall Street Journal covered it in a post.
The story became so big that Google knew that they had to respond to it.
They’ve provided more details in their recent blog post about the bug:
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 not include 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.
They seem to use the word ‘bug’ making it clear that there is no evidence that there was a misuse of the data.
There was also an action to reassure users with the launch of more granular Google Account permissions through the individual dialog boxes.
Still, it seemed like the best time to shut down Google+, one of their least popular products the last few years.
The end of Google+
When was the last time you used Google+?
Not many of us can remember the last time we’ve had a meaningful interaction on Google+ or used it as part of our social media (or search) ROI.
Google’s attempt to launch its own social network was ambitious but the problem was that it never clicked with its audience.
The stats speak on their own and they come from Google’s latest blog post:
“The consumer version of Google+ currently has low usage and engagement: 90 percent of Google+ user sessions are less than five seconds.”
Thus, users are only accessing Google+ by mistake or they simply find no reason to stay engaged.
On the contrary, there seemed to be a fit for enterprises using Google+ and they might even find new features to benefit from it:
“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.”
Hence, the end of the consumer use may not necessarily mean the end of its enterprise users.
When will the platform shut down then for consumers then?
Google mentioned that there will be a 10-month period that you can still access the social network until it shuts down. This means that we will all say the final goodbye to Google+ at the end of August 2019.
What do all these mean?
Dr Ben Marder, Senior Lecturer in Marketing at University Edinburgh Business School was skeptical from the beginning of Google’s endeavor and the problem started from the network’s positioning:
“Google + was created with a promise that it would solve the ‘multiple audience problems’ an issue that has been shown to cause anxiety within network members as the content is consumed beyond those it is undesired. An issue that Facebook was highly criticized for. Though I commend the effort of Google, unfortunately, I believe it was these arguably good intentions that killed it before it was even born.
People will say that they want to keep their various different social circles separate, no doubt this was what was reported in market research when Google was designing their network. However, what people are reluctant to say is a key component of what makes social media so fascinating is seeing the posts maybe you shouldn’t have, the kind of posts that would spark interest and may be gossiped about. Google+ is best described, like a person you would rather not have a second date with, ‘nice but boring’. At least LinkedIn knows it is boring, but fulfills a specific niche, Google + was essentially a dull jack-of-all trades.”
You may be indifferent about Google+ as a user but you may have used it in the past as part of your marketing or SEO strategy. There used to be a time that Google+ was still relevant for professional reasons and it even brought some sort of ROI for some businesses, especially in niche industries and communities.
What does this change mean for marketers then?
Chances are that you haven’t used Google+ for at least a couple of years. However, it’s still interesting to explore how the social media landscape is evolving. Even Google’s power wasn’t enough to convince users to use its social platform.
It’s a lesson for all of us not to rely on one platform for our marketing strategy, whether it’s Facebook, Instagram, or YouTube, as you can’t predict what the future holds.
It’s always a good idea to look into the future to ensure that your strategy is adapting to the changing consumer habits.
Moreover, another data breach, whether it’s called a breach or a bug, is a matter of concern for users who lose their trust on big tech giants. This is important when creating your next marketing campaigns to ensure that your brand and your messages comply with the audience’s needs. Trust will become key on social networks and we cannot ignore it anymore, especially after a year of multiple data breach scandals.
And what does this change mean for SEO professionals?
Social media and SEO can still make great allies. Google+ used to help companies boost their SEO with social playing as a useful ranking signal. Although it has never been an official ranking signal, it still contributed to online authority. However, as Google+ started losing its audience, it didn’t affect SEO even if it was Google’s own network.
YouTube can still impact your search rankings and of course, your popularity on other social channels can still affect your position in SERPs.
Still, social media is not the most important factor to your SEO strategy and Google+ certainly won’t be missed in 2018.
If you want to check your Google+ data you can visit Google’s Takeout where you can download the data from Google’s services.
Google will also provide more details soon on how you can both download and migrate all your Google+ data.