Google is shutting down its long-shunned Plus social network for consumers, following its disclosure of a flaw discovered in March that could have exposed some personal information of up to 500,000 people, the AP reports. The announcement came in a Monday blog post, which marked Google's first public description of the privacy bug. Google deliberately avoided disclosing the problem at the time, in part to avoid drawing regulatory scrutiny and damaging its reputation, according to a Wall Street Journal story that cited anonymous individuals and documents. The Mountain View, Calif., company declined to comment on the Journal's report, and didn't fully explain in its blog post why it held off on revealing the bug until Monday. As for Google+, it will be shut down over the next 10 months, but will remain open for enterprise customers who use it within their companies.
When Google launched Plus in 2011, it was supposed to be a challenger to Facebook's social network, which now has more than 2 billion users. But Plus flopped and quickly turned into a digital ghost town, prompting Google to start de-emphasizing it several years ago. But the company kept it open long enough to cause an embarrassing privacy gaffe that could give Congress an excuse to enact tighter controls on data collection. The Google Plus flaw could have allowed up to 438 external apps to scoop up user names, email addresses, occupations, genders, and ages without authorization. The company didn't find evidence that any of the personal information affected by the Plus breach was misused. The timeline laid out by Google indicates the company discovered the privacy lapse around the same time Facebook was under fire for a leak in its far more popular social network. Facebook's breakdown exposed the personal information of as many as 87 million users to Cambridge Analytica, a data mining firm affiliated with President Trump's 2016 campaign. (Read more Google Plus stories.)