Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak has sued Google and its subsidiary YouTube for allowing
scammers to use his name and likeness in a Bitcoin scam. Wozniak, who helped lay the
foundation of Apple with Steve Jobs, filed a lawsuit against YouTube for not taking action
against these crooks who used his and other technocrats’ name as a bait for fake bitcoin
giveaways. There are 17 other people who are victims from different countries of this attack
and have filed a case in the Superior Court of the State of California.
According to the lawsuit, the scammers have posted videos which assert that Wozniak has
hosted a bitcoin promotion giveaway. The users were convinced to send a particular amount
to an address, and were promised returns of double the amount of Bitcoin they gave. The
complaint alleged that images and videos of Wozniak and other celebrities including Elon
Musk and Bill Gates were used in the Bitcoin Giveaway Scam. When the participants sent
their cryptocurrency, nothing was returned.
YouTube has gained a very important role during the past few years as people tend to watch
shows, videos, news online instead of the conventional TV. Google’s search engine aids in
the most profitable advertising but since some years YouTube has increasingly contributed to
its success. Gaining control of a YouTube account with already fixed and established number
of followers allows the scammers to reach a wide audience.
What happens in the alleged YouTube scam is that, a hacker usually tries to gain control of a
channel and makes the account look like it is an official page of a cryptocurrency exchange or
a celebrity. Basically, trying to reach out to a very large number of following. The live
streams hosted attract a large audience before YouTube becomes aware of these false scams.
The offenders in some cases, leave out stealing an account altogether rather promote these
scams by purchasing the ads. It is a similar strategy that the hackers used in the Twitter scam, where accounts with millions of followers were exploited. The hacker generally live streams a video or an interview with the likeness of a celebrity and inserts the fake cryptocurrency giveaway information in it.
Apparently, they failed to take down these scam videos even after multiple requests to
YouTube and Google. The alleged put the user’s protection to question and consciously
encouraged and benefited from the scam. This also impairs Wozniak’s reputation and
Steve Wozniak after filing the complaint said, “If YouTube had acted quickly to stop this to a
reasonable extent, we would not be here now. 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. What human would see posts like these and not ban them as criminal
Steve Wozniak and 17 other fraud victims are represented by Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy
LLP in Burlingame, California. Brian Danitz, a partner and one of the lawyers representing
the fraud victims at Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy said, “The scope of the Bitcoin Giveaway
scam at YouTube is vast and it’s still going on. The fraud victims bringing this Complaint
come from around the world, including the U.S., U.K., Canada, Japan, Malaysia, China, and
all over Europe. The Complaint alleges tens of millions of dollars in cryptocurrency have
been lost in this scam which could have been prevented by YouTube.”
The case has several screenshots of videos with the Apple co-founder’s images advertising
the “5000-BTC” and “1000-BTC” giveaways. Images and videos resembling other tech
leaders like Elon Musk, Bill Gates and even founder of a private financial education company
Robert Kiyosaki were found.
There is a comparison being drawn between the network wide hack on Twitter and the
YouTube scam. In the case of Twitter, the hackers gained access to accounts and
consequently were able to pull off such a massive hack. The scam helped its creators to earn
nearly $120,000. The hackers used these breached accounts to start the fraudulent giveaway
where they claimed users would receive double the amount of Bitcoin when they send a
bitcoin to the provided address. Accounts of prominent users like, Barack Obama, Elon
Musk, Bill Gates, Joe Biden and others was breached to send this giveaway. While Twitter
seemed quick to act about the issue and locked all the accounts that were compromised,
YouTube took no efforts. Wozniak drew a comparison between YouTube and Twitter in
fighting and taking action against the scams. He said that Twitter acted “that same day” but
YouTube was insensitive to the issue. “YouTube has been unapologetically hosting,
promoting and directly promoting from similar scams,” he stated.
Wozniak and others are attempting to get compensation and want the court to compel
YouTube to take down these scam videos and to make people aware about these videos.
Plaintiffs seek an order to end YouTube’s outrageous system of entertaining, encouraging
and benefiting from these fraudulent videos. But a YouTube spokesperson reacting on the
issue said that they take necessary action immediately against any exploitation happening on
the platform when they notice any violation of policies such as scams and impersonation.
It is difficult to understand how extensive such scams can be. Scammers impersonated Elon
Musk’s Space X YouTube channel and hosted a live streaming event where they managed to
steal almost $150,000 by asking the viewers to send Bitcoin also hoaxing the users of getting
double the amount they send.
Cryptocurrency monitoring service Whale Alert suggested that scammers earned almost $24
M in Bitcoin throughout the first six months of 2020 in their report in June.
BleepingComputer, a cybersecurity blog reported three YouTube accounts that were hacked
which were live streaming interviews with Musk, Tesla Inc.’s CEO, along with the fake
information about the scam.
Brad Garlinghouse who was a previous executive at Yahoo currently runs a digital currency
company Ripple Labs which filed a similar complaint against Google and YouTube in April.
Wozniak’s lawsuit came after YouTube successfully dismissed this bid. YouTube’s legal
team argued that the platform was not liable for any content – including scams – provided by
third parties. The case filed by Wozniak’s legal team was heard in a state-run court while
Ripple’s case which was filed in federal court. Both these lawsuits claim that YouTube
provides a platform for these scams to take place on its site because the viewers attracted by
the false giveaways help in selling the site’s digital ads. The overall revenue generated for
Google last year amounts to be almost $15 billion.