Google hit with new privacy problem, fires engineer

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Internet search and advertising giant Google Inc fired an engineer in July for violating users’ privacy, the company said on Wednesday.

The Google Inc logo is projected on a screen during the unveiling of "Google Instant" at a news conference in San Francisco, California September 8, 2010. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith

The engineer, David Barksdale, was accused of accessing information about teenagers he had met in a Washington state technology group, according to gossip website Gawker, which first reported the incident on Tuesday. Google would not confirm details of the firing.

The breach comes at a time when Google is being scrutinized by various government agencies for its collection of unsecured personal data on Wi-Fi networks. The data was collected by Google’s “Street View” cars, which take panoramic pictures.

It also comes as federal regulators and lawmakers are considering moves to tighten privacy rules -- something Google and other Internet companies oppose in favor of self-regulation.

Barksdale was fired in July after at least one family complained to Google about the engineer, who reportedly spied on at least four teens' Google accounts, looked at call logs to identify one of the teens' new girlfriend and accessing chat transcripts, Gawker reported (here).

Barksdale taunted one of the teens with information that he had learned about him from his Google accounts, the website stated.

“We dismissed David Barksdale for breaking Google’s strict internal privacy policies,” said Bill Coughran, senior vice president, engineering, in an email statement.

Coughran also said the company was “significantly increasing the amount of time we spend auditing our (security control) logs to ensure those controls are effective.”

Law enforcement was not called in after the Barksdale breach was uncovered because one of the families involved asked to remain anonymous, according to a source who asked not to be named.

Google’s legendary exhaustive hiring process can include criminal background and credit checks, according to a company white paper.

It does not indicate if site reliability engineers -- Barksdale’s position -- are subject to those checks.

Reporting by Diane Bartz; Editing by Richard Chang