It wasn’t that long ago that the ruling social media platforms were a group of three. There was Facebook, Twitter, and a newcomer called G+. At the time of its release, G+ seemed poised to take over the social media roost. With it tied so closely to the search engine and with so many people with Google accounts, it should have been a slam dunk, right? NO, and everybody knew it 3 years ago.
Unfortunately, despite many valiant efforts by Google to fold people into the network, it never took off. Compared to Facebook and Twitter, G+ looked to be on life support. But now, thanks to a recent revelation of a possible data breach, G+ is going to go away for consumers in 10 months for good.
What happened, and what does it mean for your SEO and social media efforts? That’s what we’re going to talk about in this article.
At the beginning of the year, Google launched an internal investigation on how third-party apps were using Google’s data and services, how users were responding to issues about privacy and data protection on those apps, and how the privacy and data controls they had in place were working. They call it Project Strobe.
In March, during the furor produced by Facebook’s scandal involving Cambridge Analytica, Google found a big problem with G+. Apps had access to optional fields in G+ profiles that weren’t marked public. For instance, if you set your phone number in your profile but marked it as private, apps using the G+ API could still get that information. Over half a million accounts were affected by this bug.
Google does not know if the exposed data was ever collected by the hundreds of apps that use Google’s services. The problem was quickly patched, but Google never announced it. They covered it up out of fear that they would be dragged into the same data protection debate that Facebook was struggling to handle. They were afraid of public outcry and possible regulation. One bad apple (Facebook) was bad enough, but if multiple social media companies were exposing data that people thought was hidden then that would have invited the government to step in.
However, a report in the Wall Street Journal exposed the cover-up. In response, Google revealed the initial findings of Project Strobe on its blog and reported that consumer access to G+ will be going away in August of 2019. However, they do plan on retooling it to suit the needs of enterprise customers who need an internal social media network.
It is unknown if there will be any public backlash or regulatory scrutiny over the data exposure. The hole was patched before the GDPR took effect, so there will be no penalties from that law. The hole isn’t also tied to a third-party data collection company or the controversial 2016 U.S. elections. Considering we’re rapidly approaching the 2018 elections as of this writing, Google may get a lucky break and get this whole thing swept under the rug.
Google also decided to make three other changes thanks to Project Strobe. The first is to give users greater ability to decide how third-party apps can access their Google data. Notably, apps will now have to ask for each permission individually. Instead of asking for drive and mail access in one window, they have to ask for it in separate ones. Furthermore, users will have the opportunity to deny access to each one.
The other two changes involve how users expect their data to be used when it is shared. Gmail data will only be allowed to companies who are enhancing email services and will have to comply with new guidelines on how that data can be used. The same goes for Android apps and the use of call log and SMS data. Content interaction is going away completely.
How To Respond
There was another damning piece of evidence tucked in the blog post. 90% of G+ user sessions were only 5 seconds long. Any digital marketer can tell you that if your engagement time is that small, there’s something fundamentally wrong with it. G+ does have niche communities that use it as their preferred platform, but unless your market niche catered to one of these communities then it wasn’t a good choice for social media marketers.
If you are one of the lucky businesses that had a good response to G+ marketing, now is the time to study where your audience wants to head in advance of this shutdown and figure out how to market on that new platform. Considering how often Google axes services with little warning, maybe we should feel lucky we have 10 months to catch up. But it’s quite likely you haven’t had a good ROI on G+ for some time. Maybe you’ve already dropped it out of your marketing plan. In this case, you probably don’t have much to worry about.
However, you might need to pay attention to your marketing tools. Developers who linked their marketing software to read G+ data will have to remove that functionality, or at least make it so the software doesn’t go down once it can’t find G+ anymore. This could make things bumpy in the medium-term while you wait for an update.
If you are using software that ties into other parts of Google’s data infrastructure, you may also need to find out whether that software’s access rights are going to change. This could severely limit or destroy a program’s functionality. And if you have an app of your own that collects data on Android, you’ll definitely need to take steps now to ensure the program will still be useful as these changes start rolling in.
This is just the first part of Project Strobe and we may hear more over the coming months. But for now, let us take a moment to remember G+, its promise, and Google’s valiant efforts to make it relevant to the internet. And who knows? Its new life as a corporate social media network might make services like Slack a little worried about the future.