Consumer Watchdog On Google+ Debacle: 'Google Cannot Be Trusted'

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By Dominik Bosnjak October 11, 2018, 9:11am
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In short: Non-profit public interest advocates at Consumer Watchdog blasted Google over the Google+ data debacle that saw information of up to 500,000 users leaked, having proclaimed that the episode serves as final evidence that the tech giant "cannot be trusted to police its own platforms." The organization welcomed the June enactment of the California Consumer Privacy Act, asserting that other states need to follow suit as quickly as possible and draft their own legislation that would force Google and other tech companies to start treating their users' data with more respect.

Consumer Watchdog Privacy and Technology Project Director, Mr. John M. Simpson, concluded that Google "doesn't care about consumer privacy," so to expect it to continue policing itself going forward is asking for more trouble down the road. Among other things, new laws should provide consumers with the ability to take any company that put their data at risk to court, the industry veteran said, adding that the Google+ gaffe also likely constitutes yet another violation of Google's "Buzz" settlement with the Federal Trade Commission.

Background: Consumer Watchdog already criticized the lack of Google+ policing in 2013, having done so with a seven-month study that uncovered an abundance of online predators and explicit content on the platform. Earlier this week, the Mountain View, California-based tech giant admitted to identifying the aforementioned vulnerability in March. The data of half a million Google+ users has been exposed since 2015 until Google patched the problem with no public disclosure this spring, with the firm consequently deciding the platform isn't worth maintaining and announcing its intentions to wind down its consumer version within the next ten months. Google has no way of knowing whether none, some, or all of the 500,000 people in question were affected by the bug in its People APIs because it only keeps associated logs for two weeks, claiming it has that policy in place for privacy reasons.

The issue was discovered amid Facebook's Cambridge Analytica scandal, which likely played a large part in Google's decision to avoid disclosing it, with the ordeal ultimately being discovered by the Wall Street Journal. The eventual disclosure came only a day before Google announced a wide variety of new consumer electronics and shifted the public discourse about its operations to a more positive note. The matter is still currently being investigated by authorities in both the United States and the European Union, having already prompted a company-wide effort to lock down third-party access to some data on Google's part.

Impact: Consumer Watchdog's reaction to the Google+ debacle is neither surprising nor the first instance of such backlash against Alphabet's subsidiary, and it almost certainly won't be the last, either. The scandal was the tipping point for Google+, a network that has been dying for many years now, though Google still intends to continue maintaining it as an enterprise product, i.e. something that can rival Facebook's Workplace. Long-reaching ramifications of the Google+ scandal are still difficult to speculate about, though the firm will almost surely be facing numerous private lawsuits, both domestically and abroad.

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October 11, 2018, 9:11am
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