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Steve Wozniak sues Google for not acting on YouTube Bitcoin scams

He said the service has been "unapologetically hosting and directly profiting from similar scams.”
Steve Dent, @stevetdent
July 23, 2020
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Thomas Peter / Reuters

Steve Wozniak has filed a lawsuit against YouTube, saying the site has repeatedly ignored his requests to take down phony bitcoin giveaways that use his name. He compared YouTube’s actions to Twitter, which quickly removed similar scams after Wozniak and other celebrities were infamously hacked last week, he said in the complaint (first noted by Bloomberg).

Wozniak filed the suit along with the 17 other alleged victims. They want the court to force YouTube and parent company Alphabet to take the videos down and warn users about the scam, while seeking compensation and punitive damages.

Much as with Twitter, the YouTube scams use Wozniak’s image to persuade users that he would double any bitcoins they send him. “When users transfer their cryptocurrency, in an irreversible transaction, they receive nothing back,” according to the lawsuit.

Woz noted that Twitter reacted “that same day” to similar attacks, while YouTube has been unresponsive. “YouTube has been unapologetically hosting, promoting, and directly profiting from similar scams.”

In a comment posted by Wozniak on Engadget’s news story about the Twitter bitcoin hack, he foreshadowed the suit. “This happened to Elon Musk and myself and others on YouTube recently,” he wrote. “The reputation problem lies in the fact that after a while, many email us looking for their crypto-currency and [are] mad at us. The real problem is that there is no solid way to keep many such posts from showing up, even with obvious copyright infringement, via algorithms. And with such companies as YouTube (Google) and Twitter, good luck reaching a human.”

It’s true that Twitter quickly quelled the bitcoin scams that came directly from the hacked high-profile accounts. However, such fraud still abounds on Twitter, as can be seen in the comments on any Elon Musk tweet. YouTube has defended itself from similar cases by claiming immunity under the federal Communications Decency Act, which states that providers can’t be held liable for user-posted content on their platforms.

“We take abuse of our platform seriously, and take action quickly when we detect violations of our policies, such as scams or impersonation,” a YouTube spokesperson told Engadget.

Update 12:03PM ET: This post has been updated with a comment from YouTube.

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