Google and Privacy
On Oct. 8, Google admitted to exposing the private information of thousands of users on Google+, the search engine’s own social networking platform. Although Google has been aware of this information since this past spring, it did not reveal this information until earlier this month. Google’s wrongdoing, following Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica incident, shows that our private information may never be truly private.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Google did not inform the public about the breach of its users’ information, because it feared that sharing this information would draw regulatory scrutiny and damage its reputation. News of the breach was only released just a few weeks ago. But, the software glitch on the social site left users Google+ data available to outside users and developers from 2015 all the way until March 2018. The issue was then quickly resolved once internal investigators discovered the issue.
Unfortunately, the release of users’ private information has been a consistent trend in the news, beginning with Facebook and now Google, both powerful and wealthy companies that are highly trusted. Since social media websites are heavily popular and used by large amounts of people, many users’ private information is put at stake when signing up and using these sites. Users are putting their trust in companies that shouldn’t be trusted—companies that believe their users don’t need to know when there are breaches which threaten the privacy of their personal data.
Rather than hiding this information in order to save its reputation, Google should have immediately released the information, when possible, to inform the users of Google+, just as Facebook had done when it publicly disclosed that the data-mining firm Cambridge Analytica illegally purchased millions of users’ profile information from a third-party app maker. But the lack of immediacy by Google shows that the companies that are trusted with our private information do not hesitate enough when our information may be compromised.
The Wall Street Journal shared a memo from Google’s legal and policy staff and senior executives, which warned that disclosing the breach would lead to “immediate regulatory interest” and would show comparisons between Facebook’s leak of user information.
Chief Executive of Google Sundar Pichai, was briefed on the plan not to notify users after an internal committee had reached that decision. Rather than delaying the notification of users, the committee should have reached the decision of telling the users, rather than not.
In order to fix this problem, the shutdown of Google+ will occur over the next 10 months, until August 2019. According to the Wall Street Journal, Google has “decided to focus on our enterprise efforts and will be launching new features purpose-built for businesses.”
Google’s hesitance to disclose this information of this breach to the public shows a recent and unfortunate pattern between user breaches in social media sites that hold private information. Although Google is now taking the initiative to fix the issue of the breach, it should have been fixed as soon as it started, especially since it has been a problem with other social media sites such as Facebook.