Google fired employees for breaching user privacy

By on September 15, 2010, 1:47 PM
Google Site Reliability Engineer (SRE) David Barksdale was recently fired for stalking and spying on teenagers through various Google services, according to Gawker. Although the stalking was not sexual in nature, it was still a massive breach of privacy since the employee regularly accessed private user information from Google's systems. Barksdale met the teens at a Seattle technology group in his area, of which he is no longer a part of. Google has confirmed that the 27-year-old was dismissed in July for "breaking internal privacy policies" and that this isn't the first time the search giant has had to fire an employee for breaching user privacy.

Google would not elaborate, of course, on how widespread Barksdale's abuses were, but we do know of at least four cases where Barksdale spied on children's Google accounts without their consent. Furthermore, Barksdale allegedly befriended a 15-year-old boy at one point, who wouldn't reveal his girlfriend's name. Barksdale responded by tapping into call logs from Google Voice to retrieve her name and phone number, and then taunted the boy and threatened to call her. He continued to use his SRE position to tap into Google Voice phone logs, accessed Google contact lists and chat transcripts, and unblocked himself from a Google Talk buddy list after being blocked, up until parents of the minors complained about the intrusions. Google was apparently unaware of Barksdale's activities until receiving the complaints.

Barksdale had access to such a large amount of private information because Google SREs are responsible for troubleshooting user problems, meaning that they often have to view and interact with accounts at all levels. Google assumes SREs will not abuse their power, and we're sure most do not, but clearly the company doesn't have enough checks or controls in place to see if SREs are really following the rules. This is a quite serious reminder about how much of our data Google has access to and how we should remember what we are doing when we trust a company like Google with our personal information.

User Comments: 13

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Cueto_99 said:

With great power also comes a great responsability...

Guest said:

I call these things - self-advertising. :) I wonder how the hell did Google found out that?

Guest said:

Article just says, that Google has a weapon to spy every human on the world.

Guest said:

-Big Brother- scratch that, google is always watching!

champmanfan said:

The fact they were often children being targeted is very worrying for everyone as he clearly had an agenda. Never mind sacking him, he should be arrested for stalking them since this is an obvious offence.

Is anybody safe using emails/instant chat these days, of course not; but harassing consumers by violating their privacy is a pointer towards something seriously wrong at overseeing power-mad employees at Google.

TomSEA TomSEA, TechSpot Chancellor, said:

I'm with champmanfan - this guy should have been arrested. I know there are stalking and voyeur laws around. He should have been charged with one of those.

Mushroom said:

Google will take over the world one day

poertner_1274 poertner_1274, secroF laicepS topShceT, said:

Just a reminder that there are sickos all over the world.

What a shame. I am glad he got caught.

TJGeezer said:

He didn't get caught - he got fired after some parents complained. There's a difference.

All that data in one place - of course the sickos, criminals and merely hackish are attracted. The security lesson here is that the biggest vulnerability is usually not from outside the firewall, it's from inside. I'd like to know what Do No Evil, Inc. is doing about enforcing its own internal policies, because clearly they had no active checks on this guy despite his unlimited access to user information. I'm glad he had no gambling debts or close relatives in prison to make him vulnerable to pressure... or did he?

Google sits on a dragon's lair of tempting, shiny digital baubles and doesn't seem to watch those to whom it gives entry. That ain't a reasonable way for the dragon to act.

Benny26 Benny26, TechSpot Paladin, said:

So when i type "Extra strength pile remover" it's stored in a log for some kid to retreve without my knowing...Damn the google empire !

Maybe it's Bing time

anguis said:

at least we learned one thing from this: don't f*** with a google SRE. lol.

Relic Relic, TechSpot Chancellor, said:

"This isn't the first time the search giant has had to fire an employee for breaching user privacy. "

This should be a wake up call to all if not already aware that Google isn't your friend. Google is an amazing tool and anything you share with them you should be somewhat comfortable with others knowing this information. At least this is how I treat all of the services.

Regarding this specific case, it's definitely troubling that he was targeting minors and it's not clear why. I'm surprised like others that the police hasn't intervened yet.

imnotatechie12 said:

now im scared of google if someone hacks there system their users privacy will be open public <=== threat

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