Last week, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak sued Alphabet-owned YouTube for not stopping con artists from using his likeness to scam tens of millions of dollars in bitcoin from users around the world. The 47-page lawsuit represents 18 victims, including Wozniak, reports MarketWatch. Video images of Wozniak, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and Tesla CEO Elon Musk were among those shared on YouTube to trick people into sending bitcoin to an anonymous digital address. In exchange, the con artists promised to return double the amount to the senders.
Twitter bitcoin scam
If this sounds familiar, it is. A similar bitcoin scam propagated on Twitter when hackers hijacked accounts of 130 high profile users, including Barack Obama, Jeff Bezos, Joe Biden, Wiz Khalifa, Warren Buffett, Apple, Kim Kardashian West, Mike Bloomberg and Apple. Though the scam took its toll on Twitter users as well, Twitter was able to regain control of the accounts and shut down the scam from the social media platform the same day and issued an apology. The Twitter bitcoin scam resulted in approximately $120,000 in losses, compared to tens of millions estimated in the YouTube bitcoin scam, according to the complaint.
Wozniak, whose attorneys filed suit in the Superior Court of the State of California, said he has been trying to get YouTube to stop the bitcoin scam from spreading since May 10. The complaint alleges that YouTube has been hosting, promoting and directly profiting from similar scams on its platform, including “a steady stream of scam videos and promotions that falsely use images and videos of Plaintiff STEVE WOZNIAK, and other famous tech entrepreneurs, and that have defrauded YOUTUBE users out of millions of dollars.” The scam uses images and videos of Wozniak that say he is hosting a bitcoin giveaway event and will give any user who sends their bitcoin to him double their money back for a limited time.
“It’s like Whack-A-Mole,” Wozniak said during a news conference. “You can never reach a human who would easily understand the situation and get it rectified by some method. Anybody would look at that and say it’s a crime. We never got to a human. Maybe I could pull some strings, but I don’t believe in pulling strings.”
According to MarketWatch, YouTube has removed 2.2 million videos and terminated 1.7 million accounts in January, February and March for violating its policies against deceptive practices, but it did not comment on Wozniak’s claim specifically.
“We take abuse of our platform seriously, and take action quickly when we detect violations of our policies,” said YouTube in a statement last Thursday.
Lack of response or action from YouTube
In the bitcoin scam complaint, Wozniak said he has repeatedly tried to get YouTube to stop the unauthorized use of his name and likeness, but YouTube has been unresponsive.
“If YouTube had acted quickly to stop this to a reasonable extent, we would not be here now,” said Wozniak in a statement. “YouTube, like Google, seems to rely on algorithms and no special effort requiring custom software employed quickly in these cases of criminal activity. If a crime is being committed, you must be able to reach humans capable of stopping it.
The complaint filed by Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy against YouTube and Google outlines the following causes of action:
- Violations of right of publicity
- Misappropriation of name or likeness
- Fraud and misrepresentation
- Aiding and abetting fraud
- Unfair business practices
- Negligent failure to warn
- Injunctive relief
The plaintiffs have asked for a jury trial to decide the outcome.
Steve Wozniak means business if he is taking Google and YouTube to court over alleged bitcoin scam offenses. In this case, it seems like the Twitter bitcoin scam actually benefited his claims. Wozniak has been asking YouTube to take action for months and has gotten nowhere. Yet, within a day, Twitter was able to address its platform’s problem and rectify it, complete with an apology and a promise to do better. YouTube has a lot of explaining to do.