Bots, which provide automated processes, are well-known denizens of the Internet. What is not as well-known is when you are communicating with a human online or with a bot. As artificial intelligence progresses, being able to identify a bot impersonating a human will become more and more difficult. Varying the caption on the now famous New Yorker cartoon from the early Internet days: “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a bot.”
Now, ever-at-the-forefront-California, is grabbing the bot by the antennae. Enter California’s Bot Transparency Law (Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code § 17940), which just went into effect on July 1st.
The law makes it illegal to use a bot to communicate or interact with a California resident 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.” In order to avoid liability under the law there must be a conspicuous disclosure that the communicator is actually a bot and not a human.
Though one might think that the law only prohibits fraudulent or other bad conduct, the actual language of the law is much broader. What about those ubiquitous (and annoying) pop up chat boxes asking if you need help and include a human’s face? The law may be broad enough to consider these a violation. The per violation fine can be up to $2,500 – which can escalate quickly. The law does not allow for a private right of action, but must be enforced by the State Attorney General.
Since all sites will probably have visitors who are California residents, all bots (which include those included in websites, apps and social media) now need to comply with this new law. One compliance complication is that it is often difficult to know where visitors are physically located.
The law does not apply to service providers, such as web hosting and other internet service providers, of large online platforms with more than 10,000,000 average monthly U.S. visitors.
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