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Hi! Retailer Chatbot Lawsuits Rely on California Cold-War Wiretap Law


In a flood of new litigation, plaintiffs' lawyers are attempting to stretch a half-century-old California law that bans unauthorized wiretapping to cover this seemingly innocuous form of online customer support.


Plaintiffs' lawyers argue that when companies on their websites use live or automated pop-up chat boxes (“Hi! I’m here to help you find answers as quickly as possible. Please type your question below.”), they may run afoul of the California Invasion of Privacy Act. The 1967 law makes it illegal to covertly eavesdrop or record telephone conversations and includes a private right of action, with the potential for statutory damages of $5,000 per violation.

“It adds up really quickly,” Harrison Brown, a business litigation partner at Blank Rome who has been following the litigation, told me. “The plaintiffs' bar has gotten very creative.”

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"Hi! Retailer Chatbot Lawsuits Rely on California Cold-War Wiretap Law," by Jenna Greene was published in Reuters on November 2, 2023.