Google Fires 80 Employees for Exploiting User Data

Most cases involved snooping on other people and handing over data to third parties.
Ameya Paleja
Google Office in Mountain View CaliforniaJHVEPhoto/iStock

Do you believe tech giants when they offer you specific privacy options, such as the option to share your photos only with a restricted circle? Everyone trusts tech giants to a greater or lesser degree, but new findings are pushing more people towards the "lesser" side. Case in point, employees at these companies typically have the ability to look at your accounts through back door measures, and new evidence reveals that they have been doing so, which is in strict defiance of privacy norms.

Documents that leaked yesterday (Aug. 4) show that Google has fired scores of its employees over the last few years for improperly accessing data. 

Before we begin, a clarification: It's not just Google employees that snoop on other people. Employees at other tech companies, like Facebook and Snapchat, have also been found guilty of doing this and have been punished by their employers. Just in case you thought this was a new phenomenon, as Vice reports, it's actually an issue that dates back to at least MySpace. Back when the social networking site was popular, several employees engaged in privacy-violating behavior, such as reading user messages. 

Revelations such as these are not exactly moments of glory for tech companies, as they often try to cast themselves as entities upholding civil liberties. These leaked documents reveal that, even though companies take actions against erring employees, they do not release the details along with their quarterly results, which would allow users to make informed choices about whether or not to use the products.

Rather, the information about Google firing its employees came from a source that was decidedly not Google itself. 

Vice, the recipient of the leaked document, hasn’t revealed many details on how companies identify snooping incidents or begin investigations into them. However, it does offer some concrete numbers on actions taken. So, while we do not know how many privacy intrusions occur every year, we do have some idea about how many are serious enough for Google to actually take strict action against its employees. 

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The document revealed that in 2020 alone Google fired 36 employees for these serious offenses, whereas the numbers in 2019 and 2018 were 26 and 18 people respectively. The rising trend is probably an indication that the companies are also viewing these offenses seriously and have the means to identify them when they occur.  

The report added that 86 percent of the offenses that occurred in 2020 involved sharing of data with persons not authorized to receive the information, while ten percent of offenses involved accessing, modifying, or erasing user or employee data.

In a statement given to Vice, a Google spokesperson stated that most of the incidents the leaked document involved "access to or misuse of proprietary and sensitive corporate information or IP." With regards to user data, the spokesperson added that the company followed industry-leading standards (such as limiting access, multistage review before data access, and annual training for its employees) to secure data from any internal threats. The company said it also investigates all allegations and takes corrective action, where appropriate. 

We have reached out to Google for a statement and will update the story according to the company's response. 

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