What do you do when Google has no answer? Search me | Marcel Strigberger

By Marcel Strigberger

Law360 Canada (September 23, 2022, 2:37 PM EDT) --
Marcel Strigberger
Marcel Strigberger
Some guys get all the luck. Google recently erroneously deposited the sum of $249,999 into the bank account of Sam Curry, a security engineer and self-described hacker. Of interest is that Curry tried to reach out to Google to straighten things out but was unable to get through. Why doesn’t that surprise us?

I suppose he called some 800 number. A voicemail no doubt said, “Did you know you can find the answers to your questions by visiting us online?”

He then may have done the obvious: Googled for a solution. He likely entered something like, “You guys sent me all this cash. Now what?”

This effort probably resulted in his screen loading links about Johnny Cash. 

The way I see it, for Sam this was an opportunity of a lifetime to have some fun with a corporate giant. Some payback for how callously they often treat us. What he should have done was set up his voicemail to say, “If this is Google calling, we are experiencing longer wait times than usual. I’ll speak to you as soon as I am available. I’m busy trying figure out how to spend your money.”

The message could then have played some fitting music, like perhaps, “So Long, Farewell.”

He did return the dough eventually after Google saw fit to deal with the matter a few weeks later. 

My question is would they have sued him had he wanted to keep the windfall? If so in my view he would have had some good defences to such an action.

Firstly he would have had a counterclaim against Google for causing alarm and mental distress. After all it’s not as if we’re talking an inexplicable banking charge of $6.95. The sudden appearance of a quarter of a million dollars in my savings account would somewhat raise my blood pressure. Measuring my BP would ring a bell. The cuff would snap open. To me this would be more shocking than that Supreme Court of Canada case where the plaintiff freaked out after seeing a fly casually floating around in his spring water glass tank (Mustapha v. Culligan of Canada Ltd. [2008] 2 S.C.R. 114). As a lawyer I would take this one on contingency anytime.

His lawyer could also have argued that Google was estopped or equitably precluded from reclaiming the money as they misled the client leading him to think that the deposit was as a result of a new upcoming product, something like, “Google Gift.” Makes sense?

He could also have argued that Google condoned the deposit. After all is there any doubt that Google knew that the gentleman was Googling Google about the issue? They know everything, all the time about everybody. And yet they took ages to respond. Their algorithms probably mockingly said to one another,” Hey look at this fool, wasting his time trying to fix our mistakes.”

A jury would no doubt have backed Curry in his claim, based on the age-old legal principle popular with juries, namely, “These guys can afford to pay.” 

Google insists this transfer was all “human error.” I don’t know about “human” part. More than likely a robot was responsible. And if so, does the legal argument of mistake apply to actions of robots? No way. It is trite law that you take a robot as you find him.

What I can readily foresee is Google firing the negligent erratic robot. This of course might result in HAL 9000 bringing an action against Google for wrongful dismissal. The robot would probably insist on a robotic trial, including a robot judge, lawyer and of course a jury of his peers, consisting of robots. HAL’s lawyer would question and challenge any prospective juror who says, “I am not a robot.”

Given HAL’s historic reaction to accusations of misdeeds, you do not have to be Stanley Kubrick to figure out how this action will end.

I feel Google should reward the gentleman for his troubles (and his honesty). I have no clue what that compensation should be. I know; let me Google it.

Marcel Strigberger retired from his Greater Toronto Area litigation practice and continues the more serious business of humorous author and speaker. His book Boomers, Zoomers, and Other Oomers: A Boomer-biased Irreverent Perspective on Aging is now available in paper and e-book versions where books are sold. Visit www.marcelshumour.com. Follow him @MarcelsHumour.

The opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the author’s firm, its clients, The Lawyer’s Daily, LexisNexis Canada, or any of its or their respective affiliates. This article is for general information purposes and is not intended to be and should not be taken as legal advice.

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