Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak is suing YouTube after grifters used his likeness to promote extensive bitcoin scams

leadicicco@businessinsider.com (Lisa Eadicicco)
Steve Wozniak Apple cofounder
Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak.

AP Photo/Luca Bruno

  • Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak has filed a complaint against YouTube over an ongoing bitcoin scam using his image and likeness as well as those of other tech executives.

  • The lawsuit comes after several high-profile executives, celebrities, and politicians had their accounts taken over as part of a bitcoin scam on Twitter.

  • The complaint accuses YouTube of hosting such videos for months, defrauding YouTube users out of millions of dollars.

  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak has joined a lawsuit against YouTube over a bitcoin scheme that uses his image and likeness to trick unknowing viewers into sending bitcoin to the scammer, according to a complaint filed with the state of California on July 21.

The lawsuit comes just after several high-profile tech executives, politicians, and celebrities — including Tesla CEO Elon Musk and former president Barack Obama — were the victims of a Twitter hack in which their accounts were taken over by a scammer asking for bitcoin donations. Bloomberg first reported the Wozniak lawsuit, which was filed in the Superior Court of the State of California, County of San Mateo.

The scam uses images and video of Wozniak to convince users to send bitcoin in order to receive twice as much back as part of a bitcoin giveaway, according to the lawsuit. YouTube has been hosting such videos for months and defrauded YouTube users our of millions of dollars, the lawsuit claims.

Wozniak isn't the only tech figure whose likeness has appeared in such videos; the lawsuit shows screenshots of similar videos featuring images of Microsoft cofounder Bill Gates, Musk, and Dell chairman and CEO Michael Dell.

It's unclear who's behind the schemes. The complaint focuses on YouTube's handling of the videos, which have proliferated across the platform often from multiple scammers. 

YouTube has been unresponsive to Wozniak's requests to take action against such videos, according to the complaint. The lawsuit lists 17 other plaintiffs alongside Wozniak, all victims of cryptocurrency scams on YouTube from around the world.

"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 said in a statement to Business Insider. 

The complaint draws numerous references to the recent Twitter hack, which was executed after hackers obtained access to internal Twitter tools. The social media company took action immediately by temporarily blocking verified users from tweeting and locking the accounts of affected users.

More than 100 accounts were affected by the Twitter hack, and the company recently said that the hackers had downloaded complete data from eight of them, and private messages from 36. The scammers are also said to have came away with more than $100,000 from the scheme.

"In stark contrast to YouTube, when faced with this attack, Twitter took swift and decisive action to protect its users, shutting down the hijacked accounts until Twitter regained control," the lawsuit reads. 

The complaint also criticizes YouTube for relying on Section 230, the portion of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 that prevents social media companies for being held liable for the content posted by users of their platforms. The company cited Section 230 when dismissing another lawsuit against it by Ripple Labs, according to Bloomberg Law.

"While Section 230 has played, and continues to play, a vital and important role in ensuring free and open expression and debate on the Internet with a minimum of government regulation, these fraudulent videos and YouTube's ongoing, knowing, and active participation in their promotion, fall well outside of the immunity from liability that Section 230 provides," the complaint says. 

YouTube has policies in place that prohibit impersonating other people or channels and spreading spam and scams. The company's transparency report also says it took down 2.2 million videos in the first quarter of 2020 over spam, misleading content, and scams. 

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