Google engineer fired for snooping on emails

Google vowed to step up monitoring of its employees after firing an engineer who rifled through children's email accounts and phone records.

David Barksdale, a 27-year-old "site reliability engineer" with access to Google customers' private accounts, was fired after parents and children complained that he had used to the data to harass four minors, including a 15-year-old boy he had befriended.

The incident was the second time a Google employee had been fired for such a breach of trust, the company confirmed, and said it was acting quickly to prevent the incidents denting public confidence in its security.

Mr Barksdale met the teenagers through a computer club in Seattle where he worked, and boasted of having access to most of the personal communications of Google users.

He was able to read messages to and from customers' Gmail accounts and conversations on the Gtalk instant messaging service, as well as phone records of users of the new Google Voice internet phone service.

In one incident, Mr Barksdale was accused of accessing a 15-year-old boy's accounts to find out the name and telephone number of his girlfriend, and then taunting him with threats to call her. In another, he is alleged to have unblocked himself from one person's Gtalk contacts list, after that person tried to stop him getting in contact.

"We dismissed David Barksdale for breaking Google's strict internal privacy policies," said Bill Coughran, the company's senior vice-president for engineering. "We carefully control the number of employees who have access to our systems, and we regularly upgrade our security controls. 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."

A Google spokesman later refused to reveal how many of the company's 20,000 employees have access to clients' personal accounts. No details were available about the earlier spying incident.

In an email exchange with the website Gawker, which first reported the privacy breach, Mr Barksdale wrote: "You must have heard some pretty wild things if you think me getting fired is newsworthy."

Revelations of privacy breaches come as Google is trying to persuade internet users to share even more of their personal information with the company and to use its services for social networking and for playing games with friends. Eric Schmidt, its chief executive, this week called on Facebook to allow its users to share their list of friends with Google, which is secretly working on a major social networking project, believed to be codenamed Google Me.

In common with other internet sites, to whom users increasingly trust large amounts of personal information and communications, Google has stepped up its attention to privacy concerns. In June, it published a white paper setting out how it works to protect customer data, including how it stores data in fragments across different servers to prevent outside hackers from piecing it together.

peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Arts and Entertainment
Highs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
New Articles
i100... with this review
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    Graduate BI Consultant (Business Intelligence) - London

    £24000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Graduate BI Consultant (B...

    Service Delivery Manager (Product Manager, Test and Deployment)

    £40000 - £55000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Service Delivery Manager (Product Ma...

    Technical Product Marketing Specialist - London - £70,000

    £50000 - £70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Cloud Product and Solutions Marketin...

    Trainee Helpdesk Analyst / 1st Line Application Support Analyst

    £18000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

    Day In a Page

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam