Google fires engineer for stalking teens

Posted by Emma Woollacott

Google's confirmed that it's fired an engineer for privacy violations.

"We dismissed David Barksdale for breaking Google's strict internal privacy policies," said Bill Coughran, Google senior vice president of engineering, in a statement.

The company says it it constantly upgrades its security controls, and now plans to take greater care auditing its logs to make sure the policy is being adhered to.

Google was alerted to the problem after concerned parents reported that their children were being harassed.

But what exactly did he do? Well, obviously that's private. But according to Gawker, 27-year-old site reliability engineer David Barksdale had been accessing the accounts of four teenagers, whom he met through a technology group, without their consent.

According to Gawker's source, Barksdale insinuated himself into the lives of the teens. He accessed contact lists and chat transcripts, as well as call logs from Google Voice. In one case, he even unblocked himself from one person's Gtalk buddy list after the teenager attempted to cut off contact. There was apparently no direct sexual angle to his actions.

Google's had more than its share of privacy headaches recently, particularly over the illegal gathering of Wifi data by its Street View cars, which has led to investigations from several governments worldwide.

However, this is a rather different case. Site reliability engineers, who handle technical problems across the site, need constant access to mailboxes and the like in order to do their job.

It's hard to see how the company could have prevented this from happening, short of the type of psychological vetting process normally associated with the FBI.