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Google engineer dismissed for spying

Google engineer dismissed for spying

Google's image has taken a bashing following the revelation than an employee spied on the accounts of young teenagers.

Google has confirmed that one of its employees has been fired for breaking into the accounts of several children, shining a light on just how easy it is for a Googler to access supposedly private data.

The claim that 27-year-old engineer David Barksdale had been misusing his access rights to spy on four young teenagers was first made by Gawker's Valleywag, which criticised the search giant for not making public the reason for Barksdale's departure from the company in July.

Since the story went live, Google's senior vice president of engineering, Bill Coughran, has issued a statement that clarifies that Barksdale was "dismissed [...] for breaking Google's strict internal privacy policies." Coughran goes on to claim that Google's managers "carefully control the number of employees who have access to our systems, and we regularly update our security controls - for example, we are significantly increasing the amount of time we spend auditing our logs to ensure those controls are effective."

The issue appears to have come from Barksdale's position as a Site Reliability Engineer, or SRE. According to Gawker's sources, SREs are entrusted with complete access to the section of Google's services that they are in responsible for monitoring, including the ability to access accounts on those services.

It's this access that Barksdale has apparently misused, in order to monitor the communications of young teenagers he had befriended - and in at least one case to call a boy and taunt him with information obtained from his Gmail account.

While Barksdale has been ejected from Google's employ, and the company has promised to up its auditing to detect similar breaches of its users' privacy quicker in the future, the fact that it took several complaints from those affected by Barksdale's actions to get Google to act is likely to ring alarm bells with those already concerned about the company's approach to personal privacy.

Are you shocked that Google would allow its employees such unfettered access to sensitive personal details, or is this sort of thing unavoidable in a company in the cloud computing business? Is there anything Google should be doing to mitigate the risks of such breaches? Share your thoughts over in the forums.

24 Comments

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proxess 15th September 2010, 10:22 Quote
There's always going to be these kinds of people in companies. IMHO I don't find it that alarming. Just fire them.
eddtox 15th September 2010, 10:26 Quote
He might have some trouble finding another job :P
memeroot 15th September 2010, 10:43 Quote
Access to personal information is constant in all companies.... contractors with 30 mins of interview and no background checks often have access to the personal details of millions of customers.

never understood why there are scandals when 20k of details are stolen.
Fizzban 15th September 2010, 12:50 Quote
TUT! Sack he!

--

On a more serious note it's good to see they sacked him and didn't just give him a slap on the hand and told not to do it again.
AcidJiles 15th September 2010, 13:03 Quote
Bad people will always exist, so long as google is truely taking steps to minimize their impact then life can go on as normal.
BRAWL 15th September 2010, 13:51 Quote
Good luck finding a new job dude. +snigger+
Pete J 15th September 2010, 14:33 Quote
So this guy was basically a paedophile? If that's the case I hope criminal charges are brought against him.
Snips 15th September 2010, 14:36 Quote
Why did it take several attempts of complaining before Google actually fired the guy?

For him to be able to call one of his victims and taunt him means there should have been a proper security team watching the employees with access to such sensitive information. Especially with it being teens.

Not sure Google can get away clean from this since those checks should have been in place.
memeroot 15th September 2010, 14:49 Quote
maybe he just wanted to be down wit d kids...
RichCreedy 15th September 2010, 14:53 Quote
Quote:
Why did it take several attempts of complaining before Google actually fired the guy?

maybe he was intercepting the complaints
Syn 15th September 2010, 14:57 Quote
Disapointed that it took a while for him to be found out. I don't like hearing that certain employees have full access to my details with google, but its nice to know that if they mess about they're losing their job ;)
Gareth Halfacree 15th September 2010, 15:01 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Syn
Disapointed that it took a while for him to be found out. I don't like hearing that certain employees have full access to my details with google, but its nice to know that if they mess about they're losing their job ;)
Correction - if they're dumb enough to get caught messing about, they're losing their job.
thehippoz 15th September 2010, 17:57 Quote
that's why it's so hard to be the person hiring.. if I was the boss there, I'd pull aside whoever hired him and give them a what's up speech.. usually this type of thing happens when the person hiring hires a friend and cuts out other more qualified people in the process- hiring friends almost always ends up bad in some way

especially if it's someone who can't do the job and gets fired anyway like that clown.. just makes everyone involved look bad- bet you anything he was someone's son or hired in as a favor.. good old boy system is big here
Sloth 15th September 2010, 19:59 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by thehippoz
that's why it's so hard to be the person hiring.. if I was the boss there, I'd pull aside whoever hired him and give them a what's up speech.. usually this type of thing happens when the person hiring hires a friend and cuts out other more qualified people in the process- hiring friends almost always ends up bad in some way

especially if it's someone who can't do the job and gets fired anyway like that clown.. just makes everyone involved look bad- bet you anything he was someone's son or hired in as a favor.. good old boy system is big here
To be fair to the guy, looking in on people's records isn't exactly something which could be noticed ahead of time in an interview. Maybe he was a really hard worker and did a great job in the company, hired on his own merits. Just a guess, but his position sounded pretty senior and was likely the result of a promotion from a previous position. Having that job at 27, he just might have been quite good at what he did.

It takes a pretty twisted person to go and spy on/harass kids, but you're really jumping to conclusions to go and say he's not even qualified for his job.
thehippoz 15th September 2010, 21:28 Quote
not a big leap to assume though.. anyone who would do that is not fit for a position where they deal with others.. or even a position where he'd be in trust of money or closing shop

I've seen some really big morons in high positions.. almost every time it's the same story- they are there because they are boning the boss, go to church with boss, ect.. back in atlanta it wasn't bad- actually in atlanta if you talk behind someone's back, noone will listen to you.. part of the culture in the south I really respect

moved over here in cali.. god dang- talking behind someones back is what they do here.. I never met a woman who boned her way to the top until came here too.. or a shop manager who ran around like a chicken with his head cut off because he had a iq of maybe 50 on a good day

lot of guys high up in these jobs.. they get there from knowing someone, not on their own merits.. if it was on his own merits, he wouldn't be doing things like this (unless your a cop) :D
Cthippo 15th September 2010, 23:42 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by thehippoz
not a big leap to assume though.. anyone who would do that is not fit for a position where they deal with others.. or even a position where he'd be in trust of money or closing shop

That's a heck of an intellectual leap.

Where is it written that someone can't be good at their job, perhaps even technically brilliant, and still be an ass. By the sound of it, he wasn't using his access to stalk people, but rather to be a dick to them. Maybe they called him a faggot and cheater on CSS.

My point is that there seems to be an assumption that "someone who would do this" must be bad in all ways, and I think that is an incorrect assumption.
Sloth 15th September 2010, 23:52 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Cthippo
That's a heck of an intellectual leap.

Where is it written that someone can't be good at their job, perhaps even technically brilliant, and still be an ass. By the sound of it, he wasn't using his access to stalk people, but rather to be a dick to them. Maybe they called him a faggot and cheater on CSS.

My point is that there seems to be an assumption that "someone who would do this" must be bad in all ways, and I think that is an incorrect assumption.
You are a fat and anti-social person with a grotesque neck beard.

Why? Because living in Bellingham, you must be a Western student or alumni. Having Tux in your avatar you must be fond of Linux. Using this "knowledge", you must be studying or have obtained a computer sciences degree and live in a small, unclean apartment where you secretly entertain yourself between classes and or your mediocre IT job with delusions of Morpheus coming to wake you up.

Because someone who would have Tux in his avatar would do that.


:D
Cthippo 16th September 2010, 00:21 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Sloth
You are a fat and anti-social person with a grotesque neck beard.

Why? Because living in Bellingham, you must be a Western student or alumni. Having Tux in your avatar you must be fond of Linux. Using this "knowledge", you must be studying or have obtained a computer sciences degree and live in a small, unclean apartment where you secretly entertain yourself between classes and or your mediocre IT job with delusions of Morpheus coming to wake you up.

Because someone who would have Tux in his avatar would do that.


:D

It's not just Tux, it's the Chinese Tux since I'm also a socialist, but then if you read my posts in Serious Discussion you would know that already.

Besides, as of this morning I'm unemployed, so obviously your profile is irrelevant :p :p
thehippoz 16th September 2010, 00:46 Quote
lol well I guess that could have happened, he's playing cs and gets a spray over his face and roid rages- but usually peeps who do this kind of stuff are spoiled from what I've seen

I mean really you have a job thats great and your going to harass some kids.. he obviously felt pretty safe
deadsea 16th September 2010, 03:07 Quote
How is that alarming? That's like saying that IT has access to your emails.. Well duh...
There will be bad apples anywhere, just sic the lawyers/police on them.
outlawaol 16th September 2010, 04:41 Quote
Hmm... Why not run encrypted data from host (gmail account) to server? Really, if its suppose to be private then this should not be a problem with implementing. *shrugs* I see problems yes, but google has resources it could throw at this to make every account quite literally impossible to access unless your logged in with password.
quake1-rules 16th September 2010, 05:43 Quote
Quote:
Are you shocked that Google would allow its employees such unfettered access to sensitive personal details, or is this sort of thing unavoidable in a company in the cloud computing business?

Not shocked. Engineers often need access to the data to do their job. Just know what information you are surrendering to Google when you use their services. Life is full of risks. Use adblock to block google-analytics so Google can't track your web surfing habits. Don't use Gmail if you don't want to expose yourself to the risk. The Internet is the embodiment of "with freedom comes responsibility" - just know that.
deadsea 17th September 2010, 03:11 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by outlawaol
Hmm... Why not run encrypted data from host (gmail account) to server? Really, if its suppose to be private then this should not be a problem with implementing. *shrugs* I see problems yes, but google has resources it could throw at this to make every account quite literally impossible to access unless your logged in with password.

That my friend will lead to the dreaded words of "Nope I can't reset your password. there's nothing I can do."

And anyway, the emails are not private, at least not to their servers. Remember the whole email scanning for adverts thingy a few years back? Can't go out and tear up their own meal ticket can they...
MSHunter 17th September 2010, 12:03 Quote
I am sorry but Google has used a very bad program model that allows them to read peoples accounts.
Simply put if they used common encryption models there would be no way for them to access your account. Without your password and even then there are models where there is no way for then to know your password even though they store the data.

It is all just very bad programming!!

btw the e-mail scanning can still be done without the programmers having access to your accounts.
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