11 October 2018

Dr Ben Marder argues the latest data breach at Google gave the global technology firm a convenient excuse to retire its failing social network.
Image of Google+ on a smartphone

Another day, another social media privacy breach. But not every day does this cause a social network to shut down – especially one born with a silver spoon in its mouth, such as Google+. The privacy breach at Google is, of course, unacceptable. But it seems US giant may have used this opportunity as a smokescreen for the real reason for retiring its failing social network.

The internet giant has been considering pulling the plug for years. Google+ is a ghost town and considering its pedigree it pales in comparison to its rivals. The bustling metropolis of Facebook has never even hinted at shutting down in the wake of numerous privacy breaches.

I have been highly sceptical of Google+ since its launch in 2011. The core selling point of the network was that it promoted ‘circles’ for friends as a means to keep your posts only seen by people you want to see them – for example, a drunken party with college friends would only be posted to them and not to be accessed by colleagues at work.

This social network was created with a promise that it would solve the ‘multiple audience problem’. It’s an issue we know creates anxiety in social users, and something Facebook has come under scrutiny for. But Google’s good intentions arguably sealed the platform’s fate from birth.

People will say that they want to keep their various different social circles separate – no doubt this was what was reported in market research when Google was designing their network. But what we are reluctant to say is that what makes social media so fascinating is seeing the posts maybe you shouldn’t have – the kind of posts that inspire gossip.

Google+ is best described like a person you would rather not have a second date with – nice but not interesting. At least LinkedIn knows it is boring, but fulfils a specific niche.

Dr Ben Marder is Senior Lecturer in Marketing at University of Edinburgh Business School.

The original version of this blog was published on The Verdict.