Do text messages sent by a chatbot fall within the provisions of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) prohibiting unsolicited calls made using an “artificial or prerecorded voice?” According to the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, the answer to that question is no.

In Risher v. Adecco, Inc., the litigation involved claims that the defendants violated the TCPA by using a “chatbot,” a computer program utilizing artificial intelligence to recognize a consumer’s responses and respond appropriately, to send text messages to the plaintiff regarding potential employment opportunities. The plaintiff filed suit alleging the texts violated the TCPA’s prohibition against non-emergency calls to cell phones made using “an artificial or prerecorded voice.” While the plaintiff admitted the messages sent to him did not have a “voice” in the sense of audible, spoken words, they did have a “voice” in the metaphorical sense, i.e., the chatbot was intended to create the impression of an interactive human “voice,” responding conversationally. Further, the plaintiff argued, the texts, although silent, represent the automated, mass messaging that the TCPA was intended to prevent

While the district court found that the plaintiff’s position was not frivolous, it ultimately concluded the text messages do not fall within the statutory language and granted the defendant’s motion to dismiss. “As one court observed, ‘the policy of protecting telephone privacy might be advanced by a prohibition on unwanted text messages’ … however, ‘that is not what the TCPA currently does.'”

Troutman Pepper will continue to monitor the decision and provide updates on whether other courts follow California’s lead.