Spanish boy racks up €100,000 debt in bid to earn money from YouTube

After media storm, Google, which owns video channel, cancels debt

Children aged between 10 and 15 are now the biggest internet users.
Children aged between 10 and 15 are now the biggest internet users.EFE

A 12-year-old Spanish boy who ended up with bills totaling nearly €100,000 after accidentally signing up to a Google advertising service has seen his debts cancelled by the online giant.

High school student José Javier from the town of Torrevieja in Spain’s Valencia region was one of the legion of young Spaniards hoping to make money from YouTube - in his case via advertisements which appeared alongside videos he posted on YouTube of his music group Los Salerosos.

My son didn’t know what he was doing. Now he’s famous at school and his mother is on television
Mother of José Javier

Instead Javier mistakenly signed up for the Google AdWords service which allows people to people set up an advertising budget and only pay when their advertisements are clicked on.

“I didn’t know what my son was up to,” the boy’s mother Inma Quesada told EL PAÍS.

“He thought he was making money and not the opposite. He wanted to buy instruments for the band and things like that, although he did tell his friend that if they got rich they would have a mansion,” she added.

José Javier was able to set up the Google AdWords service using a savings account his family had set up for him to cover future costs like “a driving license”, his mother said, explaining that the company had asked only for a name and an account number.

In early September, Google started to call in its debts, with sums demanded eventually climbing to €19,700. José Javier's bank account – with a starting balance of just €2,000 – was already in the red and the bank alerted the boy’s parents to what was going on. At that point, the parents put a block on the account and sent the bills back to Google.

But this didn’t stop Google trying to charge another €78,000 to the account.

After news of the case broke in the Spanish press, Google issued a statement saying that José Javier would not be liable for the costs incurred. “We have analyzed this case and we haven’t received any money from the user. We are going to cancel the outstanding AdWords debt. Many online services, including Google Adwords, have age restrictions,” the company said, adding it was committed to ensuring families could use the internet in a safe way.

Like many young Spaniards, José Javier hoped YouTube would help make him rich

Quesada, an unemployed mother of three whose husband is a street vendor, says her son has now been punished and will not be able to use his computer for some time.

“My son didn’t know what he was doing. Now he’s famous at school and his mother is on television,” she said. “I’ve told him that his actions have consequences but he doesn’t seem to realize, he thinks nothing’s going to happen. We are more realistic,” José Javier’s mother said.

The boy’s parents have called in a lawyer but the response from Google suggests the move will prove unnecessary.

José Javier’s story highlights both the lack of control when it comes to contracting services online and the myth that users have actually read the terms and conditions of a contract before clicking a button saying they have done so.

Meanwhile Víctor Salgado at Pintos & Salgado Abogados stresses that minors do not have the power to contract services like Google AdWords, and this would make a contract signed by someone like José Javier null and void.

In cases where parents had actually authorized their children to set up such a service it would have to be shown that the parents had given permission to hand over bank account details to the company concerned.

English version by George Mills.

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