California’s Northern District Court Holds Text Messages are Not Pre-Recorded or Artificial Voices Under the Federal TCPA

On November 18, 2022, the United States District Court for the Northern District of California ruled that text messages sent by a “chatbot” do not constitute an artificial or prerecorded voice, per the federal Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA). In the case, Risher v. Adecco, Inc., the plaintiff alleged that the defendants violated Section 227(b)(1)(A)(iii) of the TCPA, which prohibits non-emergency calls to cell phones using an automatic telephone dialing system or an artificial or prerecorded voice, by using a “chatbot” to send him text messages. In ruling on the defendants’ motion to dismiss, the court considered whether text messages fall within the provisions of the TCPA that prohibit unsolicited calls made using an artificial or prerecorded voice.

The order granting the motion to dismiss (“the order”) explains that a “chatbot” is a computer program that uses artificial intelligence to recognize responses and mimic a human by leading a conversation with the responding individual. The plaintiff asserted that the intent of the chatbot is to create the impression of an interactive human voice. The plaintiff further argued that the texts, although silent, are the type of automated, mass messaging that TCPA was intended to prevent.

The order shows that in rendering its decision, the court recognized the plaintiff’s position was “not frivolous,” yet ultimately disagreed with the plaintiff. The order further shows that the court relied on federal case law from other district courts that have stated that text messages are not considered voices, and a text message sent by an advertiser is not considered the advertiser’s voice.

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