12-year-old gets €100,000 Google bill after confusing AdWords and AdSense

The kid had a plan: put up some music videos of his band on YouTube, plug into Google’s AdSense program to run ads alongside, make enough money to buy instruments, play music, get rich and go buy a mansion.

Great plan!

One little hitch: he got AdSense confused with AdWords.

AdSense is the advertising service from Google that pays online publishers to display and make money off ads when visitors click. AdWords is the advertising service that charges online advertisers when visitors click on their ads.

From that little hitch came a big surprise: it’s how the parents of José Javier, 12, from the Alicante town of Torrevieja, in Spain, wound up staring at a bill of €100,000 ($111,000 USD, £90,000 GBP) from Google, according to a report from the Spanish daily El País .

Google, fortunately, has written off the amount and let José off the hook. The company’s Spanish offices sent a statement to El País saying that after analyzing the case, and after not having received any money from José, it was canceling the outstanding AdWords balance.

Google said that like many online services, AdWords has age restrictions on use.

As you can see on Google’s age limits support page, in Spain, you have to be 14 or older to open any type of Google account at all. The age limit goes up to 18+ to open either AdSense or AdWords accounts.

At 12, José was obviously too young for any of Google’s accounts.

In its statement, Google also referred to its Family Safety Center.

But José’s mom isn’t swallowing the gentle rebuke implied by handing over that link. This is Google’s fault, she said, telling El País that it should never have been so easy for him to open the account in the first place.

All José had to do was to provide a bank account number – one from an account his family had opened to save up for future expenses, like a driving license – and to reserve a product name.

That was in mid-August. The charges started to rack up in early September. The balance started out modest, at around €15, but eventually climbed to €19,700.

At €2,000, the account was already in the red. The bank called, and that’s when José’s parents first found out about the bill.

They immediately blocked the account and returned the previous receipts. That didn’t keep Google from trying to load it up again with another €78,000.

At first, they punished their son by restricting his computer use. But eventually, an analysis of the computer uncovered the innocent mistake.

The boy’s parents retained a lawyer, but given that Google dropped the charges, they didn’t have to take the matter to court.

José’s mother, Inma Quesada:

He thought he was making money and not vice versa. [He] wanted to buy instruments for the band and stuff, but [one of his friends] also told him that if they got rich, they could have a mansion.

I guess that in the Tales from the “you should have read the terms of service!!!” Crypt, this is small potatoes.

After all, José didn’t accidentally sign away his firstborn.