Google engineer fired for privacy breach after 'stalking and harrassing teenagers'
Published 15/09/2010 | 13:53
A Google engineer, David Barksdale, has been fired for breaching its privacy policies, the search engine giant admitted, after claims he stalked and harassed teenagers.
The 27 year-old, a “site reliability engineer” based in Kirkdale, just north of Seattle, allegedly spied on several minors' Google accounts without their consent.
The search engine giant, based in Mountain View, California, confirmed on Wednesday that Barksdale was sacked for violating Google's “strict internal privacy policies”. It declined to provide further details.
But according to reports in America, the engineer allegedly accessed the accounts of four teenagers without their knowledge. It remains unclear how many accounts he accessed.
Barksdale, a self-described "hacker, reportedly met the teenagers at a technology conference in Seattle earlier this year.
In one incident, he accessed call logs from Google Voice, Google's online phone service, between a 15 year-old and his new girlfriend.
Barksdale then demanded to know details about the relationship, but when the teenager, who has not been named, refused he then accessed his account.
After retrieving the girlfriend's name and phone number, Barksdale then threatened to call her, reported Gawker, an American-based technology website.
According to the site’s sources Barksdale's actions "did not appear to be sexual in nature" but "demonstrated extraordinarily questionable judgment”.
The company’s site reliability engineers can access sensitive company data in order for them to be able to respond to technical problems.
The disclosures come amid a row over the handling of private information collected by Google, the world's leading Web search engine and Facebook, which has more than 500 million members.
After the site broke the story, Google confirmed the engineer had been sacked in July after his actions were reported to the company via email.
"We dismissed David Barksdale for breaking Google's strict internal privacy policies," Bill Coughran, Google’s senior vice president of engineering, said in a statement.
“We carefully control the number of employees who have access to our systems and we regularly update our security controls.
"For example, we are significantly increasing the amount of time we spend auditing our logs to ensure the controls are effective.”
He added: "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.”
Barksdale admitted to Gawker that he had been fired, but declined to say why.
"You must have heard some pretty wild things if you think me getting fired is newsworthy," he said.
Earlier this year Google was at the centre of a global privacy storm after it admitted that its Street View cars had mistakenly collected information sent over unencrypted Wi-Fi networks.
It was subjected to a series of international investigations over the crisis after it admitted recording information broadcast via unsecured wireless networks in family homes.
Eric Schmidt, its chief executive, admitted the company had blundered in the row.