Google is shutting down much of its social network after the private data of up to 500,000 users was left exposed.
The tech giant said a bug in its software for Google+ meant information that people believed was private had been accessed by a third party.
The announcement came in a Monday blog post, which was Google’s first public description of the privacy bug.
The flaw could have allowed 438 external apps to scoop up user names, email addresses, occupations, gender and age without authorisation.
The Wall Street Journal earlier reported that Google deliberately avoided disclosing the problem at the time, in part to avoid drawing regulatory scrutiny.
Google said it did not find evidence that any of the affected personal information was misused. It said that is one reason it delayed disclosing the problem.
The timeline laid out by Google indicates the company discovered the privacy lapse around the same time that 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 Donald Trump’s 2016 election campaign.
Congress summoned Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to be grilled about his company’s privacy issues in April.
Google chief executive Sundar Pichai recently declined to an invitation to travel to Washington to testify before the Senate about foreign governments’ manipulation of online services to sway US elections.
His absence incensed some legislators, who left an empty chair for Google alongside the Twitter and Facebook executives who appeared before the Senate committee in September.
“With this breach announcement, the empty seat bearing Google’s name just became a lot hotter,” said Mike Chapple, an associate professor of information technology, analytics and operations at the University of Notre Dame.
Agencies contributed to this report.
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