Google sacks engineer for breaching user privacy

Google has confirmed that it fired an employee earlier this year after he illegally accessed private data relating to users.

David Barksdale, a 27-year-old systems engineer, was part of a small number of engineers at the web giant who have access to personal data for maintenance purposes. Using this privilege, Barksdale allegedly tapped into various users’ VoIP call logs and instant messenger transcripts.

He was fired in early July for violations of Google’s internal privacy regulations, a fact the company confirmed after media reports surfaced on Tuesday.

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

He added that Google was "significantly increasing" the amount of time it spends auditing those engineers who have access to personal user data. "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," Coughran added.

According to US news blog Gawker, the users in question were underage boys that Barksdale met at a conference. Google did not confirm whether the affected users were minors, while Barksdale himself told Gawker "You must have heard some pretty wild things if you think me getting fired is newsworthy".

Google has faced mounting pressure in recent months over its attitude to user privacy.

In 2010, it emerged that the company had collected volumes of data from users’ unsecured wireless networks without their consent. This led to authorities in several countries filing legal action against Google.

When the company launched its social networking tool Buzz in February, it faced a backlash over its privacy features. Existing email account holders were automatically ‘opted-in’ to the application, which shares personal information with other Google users.

Peter Done

Peter Done is managing director of Peninsula Business Services, the personnel and employment law consultancy he set up having already built a successful betting shop business.

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