12-year-old Boy Gets $111,285 Bill from Google AdWords, Company Quickly Cancels Invoice

It’s not funny how easy it is for kids to spend money online these days. A 12 year old boy from Spain recently got slapped with an invoice for €100k, the equivalent of $111,285, for using Google’s AdWords program thinking he was actually making money instead of spending it.

To be clear, AdWords is the platform where advertisers bid for ad space on Google Sites and partner websites. This is where Google makes the bulk of its approximately $74.5 billion in annual revenues (fiscal 2015). The boy thought he was using AdSense, which is the other side of Google’s ad program, where people make money by hosting ads from Google’s massive pool of advertisers on their own website or web properties.

The boy, José Javier, thought he was making money off his YouTube channel where he’d put up videos of his band, but he was actually spending money to advertise the videos.

Google responded quickly to the situation, analyzed it and decided to cancel the invoice.

But the alarming part is that the 12-year-old was able to link his savings account and actually activate the Google AdWords account. Obviously, if a kid can get an AdWords account and be invoice later to the tune of a hundred grand, there’s a big hole in the system that needs to be plugged.

According to The Register:

“Google’s statement noted that AdWords has age restrictions in place and encouraged families to familiarise itself with its Safety Center, but the boy’s mother complained to El País that it was too easy for her son to make the purchases from Google, requiring him only to provide his savings account details, which he did in mid-August.”

And here’s what Google says about “Family Safety Basics” on its website:

Check age restrictions: Many online services – including Google – have age limits restricting who can use their services. For example, you have to meet age requirements to have a Google account, and some Google products are restricted to users 18 and older. Always check a website’s terms of use before allowing your child to sign up for an account, and be clear with your kids if you have family rules about which sites and services they can use.”

Obviously, parents are responsible for what their children do online. They cannot siphon off that responsibility to the company that provides the service. That’s one side of the argument. The other side of it is how easy it is for unsupervised kids to opt-in for services they’re not eligible for in the first place.

This isn’t something that can be resolved overnight, but it’s a problem we all need to accept is very much present. Who takes the responsibility for such occurrences? If companies start putting age verification protocols in their access systems, it will not only make the service more difficult to access, but could invite a lot of criticism as well. On the other hand, leaving it wide open for anyone to create an account and start using a service is not a good option either.

I know a lot of kids under the age of 13 who have a Facebook account. Whose responsibility is that? Facebook’s? Perhaps? The parents’? I should think so. I have a 9-year-old son and my wife and I supervise his online activities very closely. I think every parent should do that. It’s the only way. The other option is something I dread to consider – that every company that offers an online service involving money should implement stronger checks and measures so I have to jump through twenty hoops before I can start using a service.

That’s just my opinion, and I know you have yours. The point of the discussion isn’t about who’s right. It’s about how to nip such issues in the bud. And that’s more than a metaphor, come to think of it. We need to teach our young children proper internet usage habits, safe practices and the entire subject of etiquette when using the internet.

The new generation is practically born with smartphones in their hands. My kid can do multi-tasking like a pro on our iPad, making me look like a lumbering neanderthal who’s seeing a digital device for the first time in his life. The times they are-a-changing, and we have to lockstep with the times. Just as we were taught to cross the road safely, our kids need to be taught to negotiate digital highways and their infinite dangers. That doesn’t mean we cut them off from the internet or constantly police them when they’re online; it just means we need to educate them about it and then trust them to make the right choices.

At the very least, you won’t end up with a $100k invoice from Google.

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