Is Google Wiretapping Your Calls?

December 1, 2023

Introduction

In October 2023, a class-action lawsuit was filed against Google alleging that the company’s “human-like” customer service product powered by generative artificial intelligence (AI) wiretapped customers without their knowledge or consent.

The product, known as Google Cloud Contact Center AI (GCCCAI), is used to provide customer service support. By listening to and transcribing customer service calls, GCCCAI is supposed to be able to provide better guidance to customer service agents. The data is also used to improve its own database and develop new Google products and services.

The trouble is…this lawsuit purports that customers don’t know their voice is being used to that purpose.

Google vs Data Privacy

The lawsuit is based on California’s Invasion of Privacy Act, which prohibits the interception of oral communications without the consent of all parties involved. Essentially: Wiretapping.

What does that really mean? Wiretapping received its name because, historically, the monitoring connection was an actual electrical tap on an analog telephone or telegraph line. These days, it’s much easier.

It can now be done without having to physically connect to the device the perpetrator wants to spy on. Law enforcement and government agencies can electronically investigate and prevent crimes…but people can illegally wiretap, too. Businesses might do it to spy on competitors, while individuals might use it to spy on and blackmail others in their lives.

This lawsuit against Google raises important questions about the use of AI in customer service, and the privacy implications therein. It remains to be seen whether the lawsuit will be successful, but it is likely to generate further debate about the need for stronger privacy protections in the age of AI. Evidently, it’s something that all Internet users—and their representatives in government—have a vested interest in.

Conclusion

In addition to the lawsuit against Google, there have also been lawsuits filed against other companies that use AI to listen to and transcribe customer service calls, such as Verizon and H&R Block. They raise similar questions about the use and abuse of artificial intelligence.

On the flip side, companies will likely be more hesitant to record their customer service calls if they fear that a wiretapping lawsuit is close behind. What effects might that have on the quality and efficiency of customer service?

We already know that people all over the world care deeply about data privacy. There are over 160 data privacy laws established in countries from across the globe, proving just how much digital denizens of the World Wide Web want their governments to enact legislation that protects them online. Whether that means from cybercriminals, or from the companies that we connect with over the internet or phone.

References

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