Google has fired a Kirkland engineer for allegedly using his elite position to spy on at least four teenagers, according to website Gawker. The story reports that David Barksdale tapped into Google voice phone logs, accessed Google contact lists and Google chat transcripts. In at least one incident Barksdale unblocked himself from a buddy list on Google Talk after the teen account owner blocked him.
David Barksdale, a 27-year-old former Google engineer, repeatedly took advantage of his position as a member of an elite technical group at the company to access users' accounts, violating the privacy of at least four minors during his employment, we've learned. Barksdale met the kids through a technology group in the Seattle area while working as a Site Reliability Engineer at Google's Kirkland, Wash. office. He was fired in July 2010 after his actions were reported to the company.
What motivated Barksdale to snoop on these teens is not entirely clear. Our source said Barksdale's harassment did not appear to be sexual in nature, although his online communication with the minors (such as inviting underage kids to attend to the movies with him) demonstrated extraordinarily questionable judgment on Barksdale's part. "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," our source explained.
Bill Coughran, Google's Senior Vice President, Engineering made the following statement:
"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."