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Alphabet shuts down Google+ social network amid data breach

Goodbye, Google+.

Search giant Google said it is shutting down its little-used social network after it discovered — and reportedly covered up for several months — a “bug” that exposed the private data of hundreds of thousands of users.

The breach at Google’s flopped, seven-year-old bid to challenge Facebook was discovered and fixed in March, but had been open since 2015, The Wall Street Journal first reported on Oct. 8.

Rather than promptly disclose the breach, which affected nearly a half-million users, Google kept mum as executives feared a regulatory clampdown and damage to its reputation, the Journal reported.

With Facebook under siege this spring because of the Cambridge Analytica data-privacy scandal, Google feared the bug would draw “immediate regulatory interest,” according to an internal memo reviewed by the Journal.

It’s not clear whether Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin were notified of the mess. But Chief Executive Sundar Pichai was made aware of the plan to keep the breach quiet until an internal committee at Google decided how it handle it, the Journal reported.

The California-based tech juggernaut — which in May removed its famous “don’t be evil” motto from its code of conduct — insisted on Oct. 8 that although user data was compromised, it found “no evidence” that user data was “misused.”

Google said the breach failed to meet its criteria for notifying users. Those included the type of data breached, whether Google could ”accurately” identify the affected users, evidence of misuse of data, and whether or not outside developers could take action.

“None of these thresholds were met in this instance,” it added.

Nevertheless, the memo seen by the Journal implied that Google had “no way of knowing for sure” if the data was misused.

Citing the breach and “low usage and engagement” of Google+ — 90 percent of sessions lasted less than five seconds — Google said it will be shutting down the service over the next 10 months.

Exposed data included full names, e-mail addresses, birth dates, gender, profile photos, places lived, occupation and relationship status. It didn’t include phone numbers, e-mail messages, timeline posts, direct messages or any other type of communication data, according to the Journal.

Monday’s Google glitch is the latest personal data mishap in the tech industry.

Last month, Facebook disclosed a security issue that allowed hackers to access roughly 50 million accounts. A week earlier, Twitter revealed that it too discovered a “bug” that compromised user data.

Less than 1 percent of Twitter users had their private direct messages compromised and potentially sent to third-party developers, Twitter said in a blog post last month.

In addition to shutting down Google+, Google announced other measures on Oct. 8 to better protect client data. Users will now have better opt-in controls over what data they share with apps and it is limiting the access apps have to SMS messaging data and call logs.

But the breach comes as Google and its peers have faced increasing scrutiny in Washington.

Pichai met privately with Republican lawmakers late last month to discuss the company’s business practices and allegations of anti-conservative bias. He agreed to a public testimony before Congress in November.

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