According to an anonymously sourced report on Gawker, David Barksdale, a 27-year-old former Google engineer, was fired in July after the search company found he'd been spying on four teenagers. Barksdale met the kids at a Seattle-area technology group while working in Google's Kirkland offices. Using the access granted to him as a member of an elite technical group, he reportedly hacked into their GChat, Google Voice and e-mail accounts for reasons that aren't entirely clear.
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.Although it's easy to suspect the worst of a 27-year-old guy spying on teens, it appears that Barksdale was mainly motivated to hack simply because he could, and also because he thought it might impress the kids.
What motivated Barksdale to snoop on these teens is not entirely clear. Our source said Barksdale's harassment did not appear to be sexual in nature, although his online communication with the minors (such as inviting underage kids to attend to the movies with him) demonstrated extraordinarily questionable judgment on Barksdale's part. "My gut read on the situation was that there wasn't any strong sexual predatory behavior, just a lot of violating people's personal privacy," our source explained.Given that so much personal information passes through its servers every day, it's pretty scary to imagine what could happen were there to be more Barksdales working for Google. But Gawker goes overboard when they say that "the biggest threat to kids' privacy might be Google employees themselves."
Pshaw. As TechCrunch notes, Google employs close to 20,000 people, has been around for a decade and this is only the second time one of its engineers has been fired for accessing user data. Not the perfect record you'd like to see, but not a reason to freak out either.