In short: Google is shutting down the consumer version of Google+ because the social media network isn't worth maintaining, the company said Monday. The decision stems from Project Strobe, an internal effort started earlier this year with the goal of reviewing third-party developer access to Android and Google Account data. In a prepared statement, the firm said its review confirmed what it was already aware of – Google+ failed to capture a significant number of users and developers, so it consequently isn't worth keeping afloat.
Besides low usage, Google+ engagement rates are also defeating, with 90-percent of all sessions lasting for under five seconds, according to Alphabet's subsidiary. Google+ will be gradually discontinued over the next ten months, with the service being scheduled to completely shut down in late August of 2019. The company was careful to frame the decision as only affecting the consumer version of Google+, suggesting the data-tying component of the platform will continue to live on as an enterprise feature under the same name.
The company described Google+ APIs and their consumer privacy controls as "challenging to develop and maintain." To illustrate the point, it disclosed a bug that potentially compromised profiles of up to 500,000 Google+ users. The bug was found in the Google' People APIs in March and while it was patched momentarily, the company did not publicly report it at the time, likely fearing public backlash after witnessing what Facebook was going through at the time with its Cambridge Analytica debacle. The bug allowed developers of up to 438 apps to access private profile fields of users and public profile fields of their friends who shared their public data via the APIs. That information included names, ages, genders, occupations, email addresses, and other static data one could have chosen to share with some of their Google+ circles. Google has no evidence any developer was aware of the bug or abused it but due to the fact it only keeps two-week logs of the said APIs' data (which it describes as a privacy-focused decision), it cannot say that with certainty. The bug was in effect since the introduction of the said APIs in 2015 until this spring.
Background: Launched on June 28, 2011, Google+ was originally envisioned as a Facebook rival but later revamped into the center of Google's online ecosystem that tied various services such as Gmail and YouTube together, often to user annoyance. The social media network underwent a major redesign in late November of 2015, which ended up being its final refresh that Google described as a way to make the platform more intuitive to use. While Google did not label the People API bug as the main reason for discontinuing Google+, its decision to eventually disclose the major privacy vulnerability comes mere days after CEO Sundar Pichai met with stateside legislators in order to discuss numerous concerns, including digital privacy. The discontinuation of Google+ leaves YouTube as Google's only major social media effort and one that the company previously tried to tie with its failed social media network by requiring Google+ profiles from all YouTube users over a two-year period ending in October of 2016.
Impact: Given the apparent lack of Google+ users, the fact that the platform is now being sunset likely won't affect many people, though tech enthusiasts remain one of its most avid users and the demographic that will be hit the hardest by the new development. Many tech communities, including the AndroidHeadlines one, are still active on Google+ on a daily basis but given the company's Monday announcement, it appears those were all just an outlier.