California’s new bot law means companies have to disclose when you’re talking to a bot

As bots are on the rise, California wants to ensure that people know when they're communicating with a bot instead of a real person.


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California enforces a new privacy initiative that regulates the usage of bots for online communication. Coupled with the California Consumer Protection Act, this new initiative strengthens privacy measures and may potentially influence several businesses and organizations.

“This bill would, with certain exceptions, make it unlawful for any person to use a bot to communicate or interact with another person in California online with the intent to mislead the other person about its artificial identity for the purpose of knowingly deceiving the person about the content of the communication in order to incentivize a purchase or sale of goods or services in a commercial transaction or to influence a vote in an election. The bill would define various terms for these purposes. The bill would make these provisions operative on July 1, 2019,” read the bill.

According to this latest initiative, any automated online account wherein all the actions and posts aren’t the result of an actual person is considered a bot. Also, the phrase ‘online platform’ applies to any “public-facing Internet Web site, Web application, or digital application, including a social network or publication.”

From now on, it will be unlawful to employ a bot online “with the intent to deceive the ‘artificial identity.” However, if the person or an organization employing a bot disclose the identity by declaring that they’re employing a bot, they are no longer held liable.

If you’re doubtful whether the law applies to your situation, think about three important aspects— where the interaction occurs, how it’s being implemented and your goals for the interaction. First off, are you using a bot on an online platform? If so, trying to sell goods or influence an individual’s vote by employing a bot is deemed unlawful.

In case you use a bot on your website, it is wise to explicitly mention that you are employing a bot instead of an actual person. For instance, a simple notice such as “virtual service provided by artificial intelligence” will suffice. Prompt disclosure is the key to keeping you away from legal trouble.

As of now, the enforcement and penalties haven’t been disclosed. Based on the state’s false advertising law, the penalties can either include imprisonment for a period of six months or imprisonment alongside fines not exceeding $2,500 per violation.

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Naga Pramod

Naga Pramod is a computer science major and tech news reporter with a passion for cyber security, networking, and data science. [email protected]
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