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Businesses brace for FCC's ban on AI robocalls

The FCC's ban on AI-generated robocalls comes in response to growing concern about bad actors using AI to mimic someone's likeness and voice to spread misinformation.

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The Federal Communications Commission has made AI-generated robocalls targeting consumers illegal, and the effort should spur businesses to assess their marketing communications tactics.

The FCC's ruling follows numerous instances of AI-generated robocalls generating concern, including when voters received calls ahead of the New Hampshire primaries from a voice that sounded like President Joe Biden telling them not to vote. However, the language used in the FCC's ruling could leave businesses open to legal challenges, said Aaron Tifft, attorney at Hall Estill.

The FCC's ban on AI-generated robocalls isn't surprising, Tifft said. But he's concerned that the language in the notice from the FCC is too broad and fails to clearly define the use of AI in circumstances outside of voice calls, including text messages.

"My concern is that it provides a wide area of vagueness that plaintiff counsels will use to hold businesses acting in good faith liable for using some form of technology to craft messages to customers and recipients," he said.

FCC ban's impact on businesses

In its ruling, the FCC cited the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), recognizing that calls made with AI are "artificial" and thus illegal.

"Bad actors are using AI-generated voices in unsolicited robocalls to extort vulnerable family members, imitate celebrities and misinform voters," FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said in a statement. "We're putting the fraudsters behind these robocalls on notice."

The ruling gives state attorneys general new tools to crack down on scams entailing AI-generated robocalls. While states can currently target the bad outcome of an unwanted AI-generated robocall, the new ruling makes such calls illegal from the beginning, giving state law enforcement agencies the ability to hold perpetrators accountable under the law, the release said.

Tifft said he's recommending to his clients that they ensure they are obtaining written consent for all marketing communications.

Indeed, the ban will significantly impact businesses who use or are considering AI-generated robocalls, Gartner analyst Avivah Litan said.

"There are huge implications because we all know marketing departments use robocalls for all kinds of things -- not just marketing, but customer service," she said. "Now, they're not allowed unless they get explicit consent."

Congress targets AI-generated robocalls

For some, including Robert Weissman, president of nonprofit agency Public Citizen, the ruling is a welcome move by the FCC.

But it likely won't solve the problem of widespread AI-generated misinformation on its own, according to Weissman. He called on every federal agency to follow suit and regulate AI.

"Unfortunately, through no fault of the FCC, this move is not enough to safeguard citizens and our elections," he said in a statement.

Multiple bills have been introduced in Congress to tackle AI-generated robocalls.

The No Artificial Intelligence Fake Replicas and Unauthorized Duplications Act, or the No AI FRAUD Act, introduced by Rep. Maria Salazar, R-Fla., and Madeleine Dean, D-Penn., in January aimed to establish a federal framework for protecting Americans' rights to their likeness and voice against AI-generated fakes.

Meanwhile, the Do Not Disturb Act, also introduced in January by Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., would define robocalls to encompass a wide range of technology not currently covered under the law, including text messages.

"Every American with a phone is facing a never-ending deluge of robocalls and texts -- at this point, it's downright harassment," Pallone said in a statement. "This comprehensive legislation is long overdue to protect Americans from these annoying calls and texts."

Both bills have been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Makenzie Holland is a news writer covering big tech and federal regulation. Prior to joining TechTarget Editorial, she was a general reporter for Wilmington StarNews and a crime and education reporter at Wabash Plain Dealer.

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