Law in the Internet Society

Bad Robot

-- By SamSchaffer - 05 Dec 2019

Section I

Though I continue to wait for my robot butler, internet bots are already here, and they are ubiquitous. My most recent interaction with an internet bot was with a chatbot for a certain cellular service provider. Despite the bot’s best of intentions in trying to resolve my billing issue, the dialogue ended with a string of regrettable words uttered by one of the parties (that were apparently recorded and alluded to during a subsequent phone call with a human customer service representative). Clearly there is room for improvement on the automated customer service front.

But chatbots are not the only iterations of these internet bots. Anyone who followed the 2016 American Presidential Election has no doubt heard of the influence of "social bots" on the election results. Research suggests that social bots are responsible for the spread of low-credibility content.

These bots also undermine the credibility of earnest political activists, who may be mistaken for bots and banned from social media platforms. In 2018, for instance, Facebook deleted the page of Shut It Down DC, an organization formed to combat the spread of white supremacists in Washington, D.C.

California, in an effort to remedy the problem, passed the Bolstering Online Transparency Act, also known as the "B.O.T. bill" (SB 1001). The law, which took effect on July 1st, 2019, forbids the use of 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.” A bot is defined as “an automated online account where all or substantially all of the actions or posts of that account are not the result of a person.” However, bots are permissible if their non-human nature is exposed.

Currently, there is no legislation in the US at the federal level that restricts the use of social bots. However, in July 2019, Senator Dianne Feinstein introduced a bill known as the Bot Disclosure and Accountability Act.

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r2 - 06 Dec 2019 - 00:57:50 - SamSchaffer
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