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12-Year-Old Confuses Google AdWords with AdSense, Owes Google $120,000

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Man, you just cannot leave young teenagers alone with the Internet. I thought it was bad when I spent all my time pretending to be a vampire on Prodigy and racked up $300 worth of Internet charges in a month. (I’m so old I used to pay for my Internet service based on how much time I spent on it. Dear god, if companies still billed that way we’d all be dead.) Now it’s even worse. Kids can spend thousands of dollars on games like Pokemon or Kim Kardashian Hollywood, but I think nobody yet has ever run up a bill as bad as a Spanish teenager who confused Google AdWords with AdSense and wound up owing the company $120,000.

According to the BBC,  a 12-year-old boy from a small city in Spain decided he wanted to get famous on the Internet and make money from his trumpet playing. So he started a website and started hosting ads. He thought he was going to be getting paid for clicks through Google AdSense, which is a popular service in which bloggers or YouTubers or other content creators host ad space on their content in exchange for money.

Somehow, though, he was accidentally using AdWords, which is Google’s advertising service. So instead of getting paid for clicks on ads, he was buying advertising from Google and paying every time someone clicked. AdWords will put a client’s content higher up in Google search results, so thus they’re more likely to get more eyes, but also more clicks, and if you’re using AdWords clicks cost money.

AdWords and AdSense are both only for people over 18, but the boy signed up anyway and hooked his own bank account up to the service. Somehow he didn’t notice when it started debiting small charges from his account, especially since some of the charges eventually got as high as $22,000.

The bank called the boy’s parents when the account got seriously overdrawn, and they were understandably horrified. They had no idea at all what their kid was doing on the Internet, and they still say they have no idea how he could possibly have run up $120,000 in ads. His mother says he was punished at the time and not allowed much time on the computer, but once he set up the system, he doesn’t have to do anything else to keep getting charged. Other people do the clicking, and that inflates his bill.

The boy’s parents said they’ve been talking with a lawyer, but Google says it looked at the situation and cleared the charges, because the boy was 12 and had obviously made a mistake and was not legally allowed to use AdWords or AdSense in the first place. He’s probably in a ton of trouble at home, but it sounds like he got $120,000 worth of free advertising from Google out of this screw-up, so he came out ahead.