google, privacy, It
24. October 2018

Farewell G+

Mountain View denounces a leak of hundreds of thousands users and grabs the opportunity to retire the social network that never blossomed..

The impression is that Google has grabbed the opportunity of a serious bug (but not devastating like the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica one) to get rid of a platform that has never been able to get into the hearts of users. And on which, among others, there has never been clarity about the actual reach. Mountain View closes Google+, at least for private users, and will do it within the next ten months: specifying that it will communicate how to download and migrate content onto other platforms.

As prescripted by the GDPR: the general European Regulation for the protection of personal data, which came into effect last May. Fortunately for Big G, after the flaw that would have (potentially) allowed the developers of hundreds of applications active on the platform to access information of various sorts, from names to email addresses and also employment, gender and age.

What happened

The bug was discovered and immediately fixed last March. However, it was not communicated to the authorities or users because “we found no evidence that any developer was aware of the problem, or abused the API, or that any profile had actually been violated“. A picture that looks quite different from what happened to Facebook in the same period. The underlying subject, however, remains the same: what happens in the background regarding our life on social media? And how much room for exploitation is left to developers?. Consider also potential attackers, and the intrinsic value of selling datas.

So Google+ retires, without leaving behind too many admirers. On the other hand, the same giant admits that the platform showed “a low level of use and involvement” revealing a disarming fact: 90% of the sessions lasted less than five seconds. Translated: almost all the use of the social media that has never found its true nature happened and will still happen for a few months by mistake. You realized, perhaps because of some connection with the other (very used) services of Big G, that you had stumbled upon it. And you immediately ran away.

On the bright side, it seems that the corporate version, there for productivity and to make employees talk, will remain operational and, indeed, new features will be added, to compete with Slack and other similar tools. In short, it will become a “secure corporate social network”.

Goodbye Google+, you won’t be missed.

But the bottom line is not so much about a farewell to Google+ – which has been received as a mourning, with eulogies long time overdue, and merciful sobs of pity – it’s about a complex strategy of reviewing APIs, codes, standards, tools and accesses with which programmers interact with the company’s products to earn through their work.

These “front doors” to technology solutions will be more strict: they will limit access to data on Android devices as well as on Gmail. For example, developers will no longer receive call and text message logs on smartphones equipped with Android OS  and information on interactions will be protected.

Changes coming also for Gmail, an unclaimed land which has a history of email vulnerability: updating the policies on user data will also limit access to information in this case. For example, only apps that deal first and foremost with email, such as email clients, mail backup services and productivity services, will be allowed to access the most sensitive information and only after accepting and signing new commitments on how that information will be handled. You will not be able to transfer and sell it for targeted advertising, marketing research, email tracking campaigns and similar purposes.

These and other changes are the result of a complex internal auditing project recently adopted by Google. It’s called Project Strobe and it has targeted third-party apps on Android and their relationship with Google services.

 

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