Google on Monday announced that it was shutting down its hugely unpopular, often forgotten, social network Google +. The reason given was “significant challenges in creating and maintaining a successful Google+ product that meets consumers’ expectations” as analysed by its Project Strobe. Google said Project Strobe was a “root-and-branch review of third-party developer access to Google account and Android device data”. (http://bit.ly/2NwBqUi)
The headlines over the past few hours have all been around then shut down of Google+, though it would be a surprise to see if people, at least in India, are willingly using the service in anyway. However, the headline we are missing are points 3 and four in the Google blog posted about Project Strobe.
These two points affect most online users on a daily basis and have not got the attention it deserves. Point 3 is about Gmail and how Google has decided to limit the apps that may seek permission to use data from the hugely popular mail service. From now only “apps directly enhancing email functionality” will be able to gain access to this data.
This raises a serious question: Was this data being misused by apps so far? Seems so, otherwise why would Google have taken such a drastic step when it comes to app permissions.
Point 4 is something that has been known and discussed for many years. Finally, Google has decided to limit access to SMS and call logs which Android apps have been taking, unnecessarily, for many years now.
So Google has also decided to offer “more fine-grained control” over what account data they choose to share with apps. Apps will now have to show each permission requested, one at a time. Yes, this will make the download process a tad bit longer, but will ensure that your data is used only for services you are comfortable with.
Let us come back to Google Plus. Google has accepted that the bug it found in the social networks API could have potentially affected around 500,000 accounts. Now, while there might not be much personal data on the Google Plus accounts of users, the issue is that millions of people have used the API to log in to all sorts of services over the years.
This is the data they should be worried about. The bug was patched in March 2018, but Google says the bug could have been there soon after launch. That means the bug was live for almost seven years.
Coming soon after the fiasco with Facebook data, the Google Plus breach should make us rethink the kind of blind trust we have reposed in social networks and services like Gmail over the years. These companies are certainly making a hash of the fiduciary responsibility we entrusted them with. It is now time take control of your data.
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