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Rogue engineers flout Google privacy rules

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Wed, Sep 15, 2010 at 3:03 pm

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Rogue engineers flout Google privacy rules

Google has fired an engineer for accessing the user accounts of four minors, according Gawker media. David Barksdale stalked and spied upon the teenagers while working as a Site Reliability Engineer at Google’s Kirkland, WA, office.

“In other cases involving teens of both sexes, Barksdale exhibited a similar pattern of aggressively violating others’ privacy, according to our source. He accessed contact lists and chat transcripts, and in one case quoted from an IM that he’d looked up behind the person’s back. (He later apologized to one for retrieving the information without her knowledge.) In another incident, Barksdale unblocked himself from a Gtalk buddy list even though the teen in question had taken steps to cut communications with the Google engineer.”

What are Site Reliability Engineers? According to Gawker:

“Site Reliability Engineers (or SREs) have access to the company’s most sensitive data. Responsible for a variety of tasks including responding to technical difficulties across Google’s ever-expanding portfolio of products, SREs are given unfettered access to users’ accounts for the services they oversee, according to a former SRE who left the company in 2007.”

Google told Tech Crunch this is the second time it has fired an engineer for privacy violations.

Google says that it is “significantly increasing the amount of time we spend auditing our logs to ensure those controls are effective”.

Good idea.

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This post was written by:

Margot Williams

- who has written 49 posts on Inside Google.

Margot Williams has more than two decades of experience in roles as investigative researcher, research editor, database editor, technology trainer and library director at The New York Times, The Washington Post, Gannett newspapers and Time Warner. She was lead researcher on two Pulitzer Prize-winning teams at The Washington Post for reporting on terrorism in 2002 and for an investigation of the use of deadly force by the District of Columbia police in 1999. Margot is the co-author of “Great Scouts! CyberGuides for Subject Searching on the Web” (Cyberage Books, 1999) and contributed to the “Networkings” column in The Washington Post for five years.

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2 Responses to “Rogue engineers flout Google privacy rules”

  1. MORON Says:

    This is completely ridiculous.

    Absolutely EVERY single company has employees (systems administrator roles) who have access to the data they host (in order to effectively manage the systems), that’s just a fact of life.

    The fact that Google actively monitors the actions of its employees and then fires them for any breaches is a positive thing.

    Do you honestly think for a single second that the systems administrators at Microsoft, Yahoo, AOL, etc, have never abused their positions ???

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  1. Tech at Night: Google, MySpace, Twitter, Privacy, FCC | RedState - 15. Sep, 2010

    [...] scandal, which has triggered criminal investigations in a number of countries. That goes double now that a much more egregious database leak has come out, in which a Google engineer was able to stalk a number of teenage boys and girls using full access [...]

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