Google fires employee for online stalking users

google instant offers predictive searches as you type“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 employee in question was fired in July for illegally accessing data in several teenagers’ accounts, according to Gawker.

The site reliability engineer met four teens through a technology group. He accessed their Google Voice call logs, Gmail contact lists, and Google Chat transcripts. In one case, he allegedly unblocked himself from one teen’s GTalk buddy list when that teen tried to cut off contact, Gawker said. It’s unclear whether his snooping involved more people.

Concerned parents reported their children were being harassed to Google. The stalking apparently did not have a sexual component.

This kind of online stalking and snooping is a little frightening, considering the amount of personal information people post about themselves online and the gold mine of usage data Google is sitting on. In this case, Barksdale didn’t have to go far to ge the information. As a site reliability engineer, who handled technical problems across the site, it was part of his job to have constant access to mailboxes and other user accounts.

It’s a little like wondering if that helpful Amazon customer service agent you gave your credit card number is going to go on a shopping spree. It’s a matter of trust, and when malfeasants like Barksdale violates that trust, it makes it harder for users to use various online services again.

Could Google have prevented this from happening? The company said it constantly upgrades its security controls, and will take greater care auditing its logs to make sure the policy is being adhered to. Beyond that, there’s not much it can do, unless it decides to regularly psychologically evaluate all job applicants and employees. But last we checked, this isn’t the FBI.