Google fired dozens of employees between 2018 and 2020 for data misuse – which could include stealing or leaking corporate information, or even abusing Google tools to stalk or spy on users, leaked documents show.
The internal data, which was obtained by Vice News, details the results of the tech giant’s internal investigation into how its employees leverage their positions to steal, leak or abuse the data they have access to.
According to Vice, they show that 36 employees in 2020 were fired for security-related issues, as were 26 people in 2019 and 18 employees in 2018.
DailyMail.com has reached out to Google for comment.
Google fired 36 employees in 2020 for security-related issues, according to internal memos obtained by Vice News. Here is the Google headquarters in Chicago
A vast majority – 86 percent – of those who were fired from their positions at Google last year were terminated for sharing internal information with outside parties.
Another 10 percent of cases concerned the misuse of the company’s systems, which can include accessing user or employee data or helping others to access that data.
That figure is down from 2019, when 13 percent of the terminated employees were fired for reported misuse of the company’s systems.
Employees who engage in data misuse are reportedly also warned, trained and coached before they are let go.
‘The instances referred to mostly relate to inappropriate access to, or misuse of, proprietary and sensitive corporate information or IP,’ a Google spokesperson told Vice.
‘Regarding user data, we tightly restrict employee access through a number of industry-leading safeguards, including: limiting access to user data to necessary individuals, requiring justification to access such data, multi-stage review before access is granted to sensitive data and monitoring for access anomalies.’
The spokesperson added: ‘The number of violations, whether deliberate or inadvertent, is consistently low.
‘Ever employee gets training annually, we investigate all allegations, and violations result in corrective action up to and including termination.
‘We are transparent in publicizing the number and outcome of our investigations and have strict processes in place to secure customer and user data from any internal or external threats.’
A Google spokesperson said the company has put a number of procedures in place to restrict each employee’s access to sensitive data. The company is headed by Sundar Pichai (pictured)
In 2010, an employee reportedly used his position at Google to access four teenagers’ personal information
The report comes more than a decade after a Google employee was fired for using his position as a Site Reliability Engineer to access the accounts of four minors he met in a Seattle technology group while working out of the company’s Washington office.
David Barksdale was fired in 2010 after executives discovered he accessed a 15-year-old boy’s Google Voice call logs, a well as contact lists and cat transcripts, and unblocked himself from another teenager who had cut communication with him, Gawker reported at the time.
The messages he would send the children did not seem to be sexual in nature, and it seemed as if Barksdale was only accessing the information to flaunt his title.
His actions reportedly went unnoticed for months, as Site Reliability Engineers for the company regularly access servers several times a day, and often at odd hours.
Facebook has also faced issues with employee access, with 52 employees reportedly fired between January 2014 and August 2015 for accessing user data
Google is not the only tech giant that has had this problem, though.
Vice has previously reported that former and current employees at Snapchat said it was easy and commonplace to access user data, and in a newly-published book about the practices at Facebook, a former employee describes how the company fired 52 people between the beginning of 2014 and August 2015 were fired for accessing user data for personal reasons.
At the time, more than 16,000 employees had access to users’ private information, Business Insider reports, and Alex Stamos, Facebook’s chief security officer at the time, reportedly told CEO Mark Zuckerberg and other top executives that engineers had abused their access ‘nearly every month.’
One employee, Business Insider reports, used his access to Facebook user data to track a woman he was traveling with from their hotel room after they had a fight, and another used his access to dig up information about a woman he had gone on a date with, after she stopped responding to his messages.
He reportedly had access to ‘years of private conversations with friends, over Facebook Messenger, events attended, photographs uploaded (including those she had deleted), and posts she had commented or clicked on.’
The employee was also able to see her location in real time via the Facebook app.
But after Stamos brought the apparent intrusion of users’ privacy to Zuckerberg, he reportedly said changes were a ‘top priority,’ and tasked Stamos with finding a solution and giving an update in a year.
He proposed at the time limiting the number of people with access to the sensitive data to fewer than 5,000 employees, with fewer than 100 having access to passwords, and instating a procedure requiring employees to submit a formal request for access to private data.
Now, a spokesperson for Facebook told Business Insider: ‘We have always had a zero tolerance for abuse, and have fired every single employee ever found to be improperly accessing data.
‘Since 2015,’ the spokesperson sad, ‘we’ve continued to strengthen our employee training, abuse, detection and prevention protocols.
‘We’re also continuing to reduce the need for engineers to access some types of data as they work to build and support our services.’