Authored Articles & Publications Oct 30, 2018

Best in Law: Talking Bots

Partner Glen Price Writes About AI Communication Law for the Press-Enterprise

By Glen Price

There has been a lot of attention recently on advances in artificial intelligence and computer algorithms that can convincingly mimic human speech.

Most of this attention is on how people feel about being “tricked” into thinking they are talking to a live person and whether you need to be warned if that nice support “person” who helped you get the Internet working at your house is really a computer. While most of us probably don’t care if we talk to a computer to fix a specific problem, it’s disconcerting to think you could establish a rapport or a business relationship with an algorithm you thought was a person.

The reality, however, is if you conversed online in the customer support chat window on any number of websites — or debated political issues on social media — the chances are pretty good you already are having conversations with computers. In fact, chatbots have become indispensable tools that allow companies, large and small, to provide the kind of 24/7 interaction that consumers demand without a cadre of workers on the night shift or a call center in Bangalore.

Arguably, this technology allows companies that are consumer or customer service oriented to use technology to provide a customer with the best experience at the lowest cost. But the same technology also can be used in a variety of misleading ways, causing people to believe that any number of views, opinions or customer reviews and perceptions are widespread and held by hundreds or thousands of individuals when they are, in fact, artificially generated to appear authentic.

The California Legislature recently tackled this issue and the dilemma between the legitimate and productive use of “bots” and the misleading and often socially disruptive use of this technology. In Senate Bill 1001, which was signed by Gov. Jerry Brown on Sept. 28, the Legislature took the approach of requiring disclosure when a company or a political advocacy group is using a “bot” to communicate with people.

The operative language of the law is it is illegal for “any person to use a bot to communicate or interact with another person in California online …. to incentivize a purchase or sale of goods or services in a commercial transaction or to influence a vote in an election.”

For businesses and advocacy groups that use bots, the very important caveat is the use of a bot is not illegal if the person discloses it’s a bot. The required disclosure must be “clear, conspicuous and reasonably designed to inform persons with whom the bot communicates or interacts that it is a bot.” What this actually means in terms of making an adequate disclosure will likely play out between attorneys and marketing professionals.

For the purposes of the law, a “bot” means “an automated online account where all or substantially all of the actions or posts of that account are not the result of a person” and online means the bot appears on “any public-facing Internet website, web application, or digital application, including a social network or publication.”

Accordingly, for the disclosure requirement to apply, the purpose of the bot needs to be communication with the public and would not apply to internal networks used for private purposes. The communication must further be for the express purpose of selling a product or service or influencing someone’s perception on a political topic.

There’s a good chance the impact of the law on political speech may become a source of litigation, but the use of chatbots or voice simulation systems for commercial purposes is likely to be enforced. Companies need to evaluate whether their systems require disclosure and how to make that disclosure in a way that enhances, rather than undermines, the confidence of the customer and the benefits of the technology.

This article first appeared in The Press-Enterprise and other Southern California Newspaper Group publications online on Oct. 30, 2018. Republished with permission.

Continue Reading

Cookie Consent

By clicking “Agree,” you agree to the storing of cookies on your device to enhance website navigation, analyze website usage and assist in our marketing efforts. View our Cookie Notice here.