Gawker wrote a story on how one Googler was fired for allegedly “stalking” and “spying” on a 15-year-old’s Gmail Chat conversations. Gawker said the “stalking” was not “sexual” in nature but it was still a breach of privacy.
Later, Google confirmed that this Googler was dismissed due to “breaking internal privacy policies.” Google later admitted that this was not the first time Google had to fire an employee over breaching user privacy.
Bill Coughran, Senior Vice President, Engineering at Google told TechCrunch:
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.
How serious was David Barksdale’s breach of privacy according to Gawker? Phone tapping?
It’s unclear how widespread Barksdale’s abuses were, but in at least four cases, Barksdale spied on minors’ Google accounts without their consent, according to a source close to the incidents. In an incident this spring involving a 15-year-old boy who he’d befriended, Barksdale tapped into call logs from Google Voice, Google’s Internet phone service, after the boy refused to tell him the name of his new girlfriend, according to our source. After accessing the kid’s account to retrieve her name and phone number, Barksdale then taunted the boy and threatened to call her.
Michael Arrington feels firing these employees is not enough. This level of privacy violations, he thinks, is possibly jail worthy.