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Google Engineer Fired for Spying on Teenagers

Gawker Media reports that 27-year-old David Barksdale was fired from his position as a Google Site Reliability Engineers (SRE) in July 2010 after he accessed the user accounts of at least four minors he met through a technology group in Seattle.

Though it's unclear how many people were victims of Barksdale's disregard for user privacy, his victims include both male and female users. One case saw Barksdale tap into call logs from Google Voice after a 15-year-old boy he had befriended refused to reveal his new girlfriend's name. Barksdale is said to have accessed his logs, obtained the girlfriend's name and phone number and then threatened to call her. Another time he unblocked himself from a user's Gtalk list, despite the fact that the user in question clearly didn't want to talk to him. Gawker cites an anonymous source that says Barksdale also accessed chat transcripts and contact lists, and in one case actually quoted from an IM conversation he had looked up without the user's knowledge.

Though it's definitely creepy and unsettling, Gawker's source doesn't believe Barksdale's harassment was sexual in nature.

"My gut read on the situation was that there wasn't any strong sexual predatory behavior, just a lot of violating people's personal privacy," the source said.

Gawker spoke to a former SRE at Google who was able to shed some light on how Barksdale was able to access this information.

"There's a whole bunch of trust involved. There's a lot of data inside Google, and I'm willing to bet some of it is really valuable. But for me and the people I worked with, it was never worth looking at."

SREs are responsible for responding to technical difficulties that crop up in all Google products. As a result, SREs have access to sensitive data as well as user accounts for the services they're tasked with over seeing.

Once they found out about the breaches in privacy, parents of the victims withdrew their children from the technology group where they had met the Google employee. Soon after, Barksdale was kicked out of the group. Google was informed in July and fired him.

Google's Senior VP for Engineering told TechCrunch that Barksdale was fired for breaching the search giant's internal privacy policies:

"We dismissed David Barksdale for breaking Google's strict internal privacy policies. We carefully control the number of employees who have access to our systems, and we regularly upgrade our security controls–for example, we are significantly increasing the amount of time we spend auditing our logs to ensure those controls are effective. That said, a limited number of people will always need to access these systems if we are to operate them properly–which is why we take any breach so seriously."

Read the complete story on Gawker.

  • eklipz330
    well then, he wasn't a sexual predator, just a plain ole' creep.


    Reply
  • LORD_ORION
    Sooo... if someone is not a git and blatantly flaunting that they are violating privacy, they probably won't get caught?

    Brilliant.
    Reply
  • tsnorquist
    He should have tapped into a Barber Shop rather than the kids lives.
    Reply
  • scook9
    LORD_ORIONSooo... if someone is not a git and blatantly flaunting that they are violating privacy, they probably won't get caught?Brilliant.
    Same as if you work for the DOD and have a top secret clearance and expose confidential documents....they are trusting you to keep that stuff controlled. It would actually be very easy to walk in an copy stuff onto a thumb drive and walk out the door with it. It is all built on trust.

    Of course if caught, they wont just fire you, you also get charged with treason but that is not the point I am making
    Reply
  • lukeiamyourfather
    This kind of stuff happens all the time but you usually don't hear about it. Good for Google to give him the boot.
    Reply
  • f-14
    We carefully control the number of employees who have access to our systems, and we regularly upgrade our security controls–for example, we are significantly increasing the amount of time we spend auditing our logs to ensure those controls are effective.

    hmmm gee this guy wasn't caught by googles system, he was caught by complaints from the victims/parents.

    we all worried this would happen, this one time it was a least case scenario, however the guy was an idiot and blatantly threw out proof how stupid he was. this is the only guy they publicly caught, what about the ones they didn't publicly out, and what are the ones who haven't been caught doing? a through investigation should be done of all it's employees activities by an independant watch dog group.
    Reply
  • jonpaul37
    Well, this creep definitely presents him as a creeper but he certainly doesn't LOOK creepy

    /end sarcasm
    Reply
  • headscratcher
    looks like his dog is about to pinch one on his shoe.
    Reply
  • now imagine your personal information floating around Google, Facebook, Tweeter, etc. and some support people who are paid 10-20$ an hour having access to all that. Now imagine someone wants to get all info about you. They can just bribe one of those support techs and they can easily target you. Before this was much harder than today. I wonder why people willingly trust all their private information to companies like Google and Facebook. Those companies spit on the privacy. If people knew how the data is kept in their datacenters and how open it is to anyone in those companies then they would not do trust them...
    Reply
  • xerroz
    Wait what? A company that spies on people fires one of their employees for spying?
    Reply