Google's headquarters in Mountain View, California. Picture: BLOOMBERG/DAVID PAUL MORRIS
Google's headquarters in Mountain View, California. Picture: BLOOMBERG/DAVID PAUL MORRIS

San Francisco - Google is shutting down the consumer version of its online social network after fixing a bug exposing private data in as many as 500,000 accounts.

The US internet giant said it will "sunset" the Google+ social network for consumers. It failed to gain meaningful traction after being launched in 2011 as a challenge to Facebook.

A Google spokesperson cited "significant challenges in creating and maintaining a successful Google+ that meets consumers’ expectations" along with "very low usage".

In March, a security audit revealed a software bug that gave third-party apps access to Google+ private profile data that people meant to share only with friends. Google said it was unable to confirm which accounts were affected by the bug, but an analysis indicated it could have been as many as 500,000 Google+ accounts.

"We found no evidence that any developer was aware of this bug ... and we found no evidence that any profile data was misused," Google said in a blog post.

The data involved was limited to optional profile fields, including name, age, gender, occupation and e-mail address, Google said. Information that could be accessed did not include posts, messages or telephone numbers.

Google did not specify how long the software flaw existed, or why it waited to disclose it.

The Wall Street Journal reported that Google executives opted against notifying users earlier because of fears it would catch the attention of regulators.

Google will wind down Google+ during the coming 10 months to allow people time to download pictures, videos or other data they want from their accounts. It plans to add new workplace-orientated features to enhance the appeal of Google+ as a "secure corporate social network" to be used inside business operations.

"We have many enterprise customers who are finding great value in using Google+ within their companies," the firm said.

"Our review showed that Google+ is better suited as an enterprise product where co-workers can engage in internal discussions."

AFP

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