Google is set to shut down its Google+ social networking site following reports that the service publicly exposed user data.

The data breach was said to have affected some 500,000 accounts and was the result of a bug in the software, which could allow third parties to access information users believed was private.

Although Google is said to have been aware of the issue since March, Google opted not to publicly disclose the vulnerability. According to an internal memo reported by the Wall Street Journal, the web giant said that doing so would have drawn “immediate regulatory interest” to the company.

The memo suggested Google was also worried about the potential reputational damage such a revelation would lead to in the wake of the scandal involving Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, and wanted to avoid the prospect of chief executive Sundar Pichai having to testify before the US congress on the matter.

In a blog post published shortly after the news, Ben Smith, Google fellow and vice-president of engineering, said the firm’s Privacy and Data Protection Office had reviewed the bug, looking at the type of data involved, whether the company could accurately identify the users to inform, if there was any evidence of misuse, and whether there were any actions a developer or user could take in response.

He added there was no evidence any developer was aware of the bug or that any data had been misused, so the breach was not deemed serious enough to inform the public.

Google+ which was launched in 2011 and was intended to be a rival to Facebook. However, it never attracted users in great numbers, which the company indicated this week was also a key factor in the decision to shut down the service.

Mr Smith said the social network “has not achieved broad consumer or developer adoption, and has seen limited user interaction with apps. The consumer version of Google+ currently has low usage and engagement: 90 per cent of Google+ user sessions are less than five seconds.”

However, while the consumer version of Google+ will be gradually sunsetted over the coming months – with the process expected to be complete by August 2019 – an enterprise version will continue to receive support.

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