Google Engineer Fired for Accessing Teens’ Gmail, Chat Logs

Google this week confirmed that it fired an engineer who accessed the Gmail and Google Voice accounts of several minors and taunted those children with the information he uncovered.  David Barksdale worked in Google’s Kirkland, Wash. office as a site reliability engineer, where he had access to user accounts. As first reported by Gawker, Barksdale accessed the Gmail and Google Voice accounts of several teenagers he met through a local technology group, and made them aware of the data he’d uncovered.

After receiving complaints from the teenagers’ parents, Google quietly fired Barksdale in July 2010.

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

One of the incidents mentioned by Gawker involved a 15-year-old boy Barksdale met at the technology group. When the boy refused to tell Barksdale the name of his new girlfriend, Barksdale accessed the boy’s Google Voice calls logs and retrieved her name and phone number. He then harassed the boy and threatened to call his girlfriend.

He also reportedly accessed contact lists and chat transcripts, Gawker said.

The interactions did not appear to be sexual in nature, but were instead some sort of bizarre power trip. “A self-described ‘hacker,’ Barksdale seemed to get a kick out of flaunting his position at Google,” Gawker wrote.

Parents contacted Google earlier this summer, and Barksdale was subsequently fired. He confirmed to Gawker that he’d been let go, but declined to discuss additional details.

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