Google Plus is being shut down to consumers but will continue as an enterprise service that small businesses can take advantage of. This is the full story of the events that led up to this.
Seven years ago, Nigeria’s top Tech blog, MobilityArena, alerted you when Google finally opened up its social media platform (Google Plus) to the public following a twelve-week field test. Conceptualised as Google’s response to Facebook and similar social media platforms, the tech giant aggressively pushed its baby for years.
To be honest, Google has had its fair share of challenges ranging from antitrust allegations and controversial usage policies to user data security issues. In fairness though, this is par for the course with social media platforms. As the popular saying goes, ‘win some, lose some’. It now seems Google Plus falls into the latter category as the company voted to retire its floundering social media platform.
According to a blog post published by Ben Smith, Vice President of Engineering at Google, “…Many third-party apps, services and websites build on top of our various services to improve everyone’s phones, working life, and online experience.”
While pointing out Google’s strong support for a vibrant ecosystem, Smith admitted that sustainable success of this ecosystem was only possible with users’ confidence in the security of their data as well as developers’ understanding of operational rules. The question is; have these two conditions co-existed to create an ideal environment?
Early Warning Signs?
In what now looks like an early portent, three years ago, a CNNMoney article announced the dismantling of Google Plus. This happened when the company discontinued its policy of restricting YouTube video posting and comments strictly to users with a Google+ account. Google actually had little choice, following a backlash from users who took umbrage at the company’s attempts to compel usage of its fledgeling social media platform.
Furthermore, the unbundling was effected across board. According to Bradley Horowitz, a VP at Google at that time, “We want to formally retire the notion that a Google Plus membership is required for anything at Google … other than using Google Plus itself,”. Although Google Plus survived that phase, there were more battles ahead to fight especially with acceptance and uptake.
Seven years after being launched, Google Plus is still recording low activity with user session lasting less than five seconds for ninety per cent of its users. Back to the present; the company, Google and its parent company, Alphabet have certainly had a lot to deal with; home and abroad, within and without.
Slapped With Record Fine by the European Union and Presidentially Trumped in the United States
The tech giant has not gotten much joy in Europe as it received a record fine from the EU regulatory authorities in July. The EU slammed Google with a €4.34 billion ($5billion), having found the company culpable and in breach of its antitrust regulations.
According to the regulators, Google has used its dominance of the Android OS system unfairly by compelling smartphone manufacturers to pre-install its Chrome browser and Search app with the Playstore. Deeming this practice to put an unfair constraint on other players, the European Commission issued what amounts to a cease and desist order against Google, demanding compliance within 90 days or face further fines.
Things are not looking too rosy on the home front either as the company seems to be getting into a fight it might want to avoid. As everyone knows, Donald Trump throws punches without gloves…when provoked. That being common knowledge, no one was shocked when he tackled social media platforms two months ago in his trademark style. Issuing a thinly veiled threat to Facebook, Twitter and Google, he left none in doubt of his displeasure.
The US President singled out Google when addressing reporters, categorically stating that “Google has really taken advantage of a lot of people and I think that’s a very serious thing and it’s a very serious charge,” Continuing, he warned, “They better be careful because they can’t do that to people.” In what has the appearance of a faceoff between two of the most powerful platforms in the world; the US Presidency and social media, the former lashed out somewhat ironically at Google…using Twitter. He initially posted an accusatory tweet which he later deleted, substituting it with a similar one almost immediately.
Meanwhile, the social media platforms denied the allegations. Making clear its stand on the President’s tweets, a Google Spokesperson issued a statement on the same day, pointing out that “Search is not used to set a political agenda and we don’t bias our results toward any political ideology. Every year, we issue hundreds of improvements to our algorithms to ensure they surface high-quality content in response to users’ queries. We continually work to improve Google Search and we never rank search results to manipulate political sentiment.”
Data Breach Issues On Google Plus
Apparently, in a bid to avoid the regulatory scrutiny and public outrage that Facebook encountered recently, Google’s legal and policy staff advised the company to refrain from making the security breach public in August. It is speculated that about 500,000 Google Plus accounts have been compromised by exposure of data including names, gender, dates of birth, email addresses and profile photos. However, the data does not include personal communication or phone numbers.
The incident prompted Google to institute Project Strobe, an initiative to “…review of third-party developer access to Google account and Android device data and of our philosophy around apps’ data access.”. Its fourfold terms of reference included:
- operation of Google privacy controls,
- platforms where users were not engaging with Google APIs because of concerns around data privacy,
- areas where developers may have been granted overly broad access, and
- other areas in which Google policies should be tightened.
Having carried out its assignment, the Project Strobe findings and recommended actions are already in. Smith, in his blog post, lists them out.
Finding 1: There are significant challenges in creating and maintaining a successful Google Plus product that meets consumers’ expectations.
Action 1: We are shutting down Google+ for consumers.
Finding 2: People want fine-grained controls over the data they share with apps.
Action 2: We are launching more granular Google Account permissions that will show in individual dialog boxes.
Finding 3: When users grant apps access to their Gmail, they do so with certain use cases in mind.
Action 3: We are limiting the types of use cases that are permitted.
Finding 4: When users grant SMS, Contacts and Phone permissions to Android apps, they do so with certain use cases in mind.
Action 4: We are limiting apps’ ability to receive Call Log and SMS permissions on Android devices, and are no longer making contact interaction data available via the Android Contacts API.
By taking users and developers into consideration, Google intends to continue supporting a broad range of use applications without compromising user confidence in data security.
A vibrant Google ecosystem is a massive plus for a world increasingly reliant on its ever-expanding platform. A user point of view will only envision a future with a stable and more secure Google company.
Goodbye Consumers; Hello Enterprise!
Google’s finding was summarised as follows:
To give people a full opportunity to transition, we will implement this wind-down over a 10-month period, slated for completion by the end of next August. Over the coming months, we will provide consumers with additional information, including ways they can download and migrate their data.
…we have many enterprise customers who are finding great value in using Google+ within their companies. Our review showed that Google+ is better suited as an enterprise product where co-workers can engage in internal discussions on a secure corporate social network. Enterprise customers can set common access rules, and use central controls, for their entire organization. We’ve decided to focus on our enterprise efforts and will be launching new features purpose-built for businesses. We will share more information in the coming days.
In conclusion, Google+ is not exactly being shut down. From the consumer angle, Google Plus is dead. It is being transitioned from a consumer social network to an enterprise service that small business can continue to benefit from.
If you are a small business owner or manager, you will want to keep your eyes and ears out for further developments.