I Join EFF in Opposing the California SB 1001 “Bots Disclosure” Legislation

The Electronic Frontier Foundation recently announced their opposition to California Senate Bill SB 1001, which mandates explicit “I am not a human” disclosure notices relating to all manner of automated reply, response, and other computer-based systems.

While it’s certainly the case that considerable controversy was triggered by Google’s demonstration earlier this month of their AI-based “Duplex” phone calling system ( “Teachable Moment: How Outrage Over Google’s AI ‘Duplex’ Could Have Been Avoided” – https://lauren.vortex.com/2018/05/11/teachable-moment-how-outrage-over-googles-ai-duplex-could-have-been-avoided), Google reacted quickly and appropriately by announcing that production versions of the system would identify themselves to called parties.

Voluntary approaches like this are almost always preferable to legislative “fixes” — the latter all too often attempt to swat flies using nuclear bombs, with all manner of negative collateral damage.

Such is the case with the California Senate’s SB 1001, which would impose distracting, confusing, and disruptive labeling requirements on a vast range of online systems of all sorts, the overwhelming majority of which are obviously not pretending to be human beings in misleading ways.

Even worse, the legislation states that these systems are assumed to purposely be attempting to mislead unless they explicitly identify themselves as being non-humans. This is a ludicrous assumption — the legislation would be at least a bit more palatable if it was restricted to situations where a genuine intent to mislead was present, such as automated telemarketing phone spam.

The labeling requirements imposed by SB 1001 would make the obnoxious scourge of “We use cookies! Click here if you understand!” banners (the result of misguided EU regulatory actions) look like a walk in the park by comparison.

While automated communications systems will not be immune to misuse, SB 1001 will not stop such abuse and will cause massive confusion for both site operators and users. It is not only premature, it is a textbook example of overly broad and badly written legislation that was not adequately thought through.

SB 1001 should not become law.


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