Google’s answer to Facebook and other social media sites was exposed three years ago by IM as a haven for lonely heart sex scammers with ties to organized crime. Now Google is throwing in the towel on the service.
Google made the announcement last month. It has been posting notices on its site informing users the service will shut down in April. Any content not downloaded will be lost, the search engine said.
Officially, the accounts will close on or about Apr. 2. Apparently, the site opted, wisely, against closing it on April Fool’s Day.
The site launched in June 2011 to counter Facebook, Twitter and other social sites and promote Google products like YouTube. It peaked at about 111 million users in 2015. Even then, the service’s viability was being questioned.
The number of truly active users was a small fraction of Google’s 2.2 billion users, according to a 2015 study published by Stone Temple Consulting, a digital marketing firm with offices in Boston and California.
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“The debate on the activity level on Google+ has raged for years. “How many users are really active on it? Is the place a ghost town?” wrote the study’s author Eric Enge.
Google automatically created Google+ accounts when people signed up for any other Google services. The study found, however, that more than 90 percent of those with accounts never used them.
Only 6.7 million users had 50 or more posts, and only 3.5 million had 50 or more posts in the last 30 days at the time the study was conducted.
But Google+ and its chat service “Google Hangouts” quickly became a haven for lonely heart sex scammers. They used the service to con tens of thousands of dollars from unwitting users through blackmail and sex and marriage scams, a special IM investigation discovered.
TheImproper’s six-week investigation barely scratched the surface on the level of organized activity. But the probe uncovered concrete evidence that well organized groups are prowling Google’s social media site for victims.
Other dating and social media sites also faced the same onslaught from scammers, but one-by-one they enacted controls to weed out fake or abusive accounts. But Google Hangouts was wide open to abusers.
Last October, the search company acknowledged that a previously undisclosed security flaw exposed user profile data to hackers. The problem was fixed the previous March but never publicized.
The search engine based the decision to close on “low usage and engagement.” Some 90 percent of Google+ user sessions lasted less than five seconds.
While the site is being close to consumers, Google will still maintain it as a much reduced “secure corporate social network. ” Businesses will be able to use it as an internal network for employees.
As early as this week (Feb. 4) consumers will no longer be able to create new Google+ profiles, pages, communities or events. Starting early March, additional data will be available for download, including author, body, and photos for every community post in a public community.
The Google+ Sign-in button will stop working in the coming weeks but in some cases may be replaced by a Google Sign-in button. “You’ll still be able to sign in with your Google Account wherever you see Google Sign-in buttons,” the search giant noted.
Users who embedded Google+ for comments web sites will lose the feature starting this month through March 7. All Google+ comments on all sites will be deleted starting Apr. 2.
If you’re a G Suite customer, Google+ for your G Suite account should remain active. Contact your G Suite administrator for more details. You can also expect a new look and new features soon.
As of this month, scammers were still trolling the service.
“One of the cruelest scams is the Lonely Hearts Scam,” according to a Web site devoted to Internet fraud.
“With this scam people are fooled into thinking that they have met their ‘true love’ online. The victim then sends their ‘true love’ money so they can meet,” according to the site. “Once they get the money, the disappear or come back for more.”
Google is doing a service for its users in more ways than one.