Wozniak Sues YouTube for Hosting Bitcoin Video Scams Exploiting His Image

(Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images for Discovery)

Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak is suing Google’s YouTube for failing to take down Bitcoin video scams that’ve been using his image to defraud victims. 

According to Wozniak, YouTube has ignored his pleas to take down the “Bitcoin giveaway” videos, which have been circulating on the platform for months. The videos entice viewers to send Bitcoin to a digital wallet and promise double the amount back. But in reality, victims get nothing. 

On Tuesday, Wozniak and 17 victims of the fraud filed a lawsuit against YouTube, demanding the platform remove the Bitcoin scam videos and pay damages. “Wozniak has suffered and continues to suffer irreparable harm to his reputation, and YouTube users, including plaintiffs, have been defrauded out of millions of dollars,” the complaint claims. 

Example of the scams, as seen in the lawsuit. Example of the scams, as seen in the lawsuit.

The scam videos have been ensnaring unsuspecting victims with the help of YouTube’s recommendation algorithms and advertising tools. As a result, YouTube is indirectly profiting from the scams, the lawsuit claims.

“YouTube takes its cut of these illegally gotten proceeds by knowingly and willingly selling those same fraudsters targeted advertising that drive additional YouTube users to the fraudulent promotions and videos, thereby further fueling the scam and keeping the money flowing,” the complaint adds. 

Wozniak isn’t the only celebrity who’s been featured in the videos. Others have used old video interviews of Elon Musk, Bill Gates, and Ethereum co-founder Vitalik Buterin to promote the Bitcoin giveaways, which pretend to be airing live footage. In some cases, the videos have allegedly carried a YouTube verification badge, lending the scammers even more legitimacy. 

Bill Gates and Elon Musk featured in the scams.Bill Gates and Elon Musk are also featured in the scams.

Starting on May 10, Wozniak repeatedly asked YouTube pull down the videos. But he says he was never able to reach a human staffer. “If YouTube had acted quickly to stop this to a reasonable extent, we would not be here now,” Wozniak said 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,” he added. “If a crime is being committed, you MUST be able to reach humans capable of stopping it.”

In response to the lawsuit, YouTube said: “We take abuse of our platform seriously, and take action quickly when we detect violations of our policies, such as scams or impersonation.” A company spokesperson added that the platform has strict policies and tools in place designed to detect, thwart and warn users about fraud.

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