Home Depot Facing Class Action Lawsuit Over Use of AI

March 11th, 2024 by Brigid O'Leary

From the amusing to the perplexing, artificial intelligence (AI) is under scrutiny across many industries as people around the world work out what the technology can and cannot do—and in what ways companies should wield those tools. Now Home Depot and Google, together, are in the cross hairs for their alleged use of AI in “violations of the California Invasion of Privacy Act (“CIPA”).

Christopher Barulich, a California resident, has filed a class action complaint against both the retail giant and technology giant on his own behalf as well as anyone “who called Home Depot customer service and had their privacy violated when Home Depot allowed Google to access, record, read, and learn the contents of their calls.”

The class action complaint states that Google’s Cloud Contact Center AI (“CCAI”) service “enables it to listen to and analyze customer service calls in real time” and that by 2021, Home Depot was using CCAI “to monitor and analyze all of its live customer service calls.”
This allowance, Barulich’s legal team argues, conflicts with CIPA which “prohibits the surreptitious third-party monitoring and recording of phone calls.” The plaintiff says Home Depot and Google “violated CIPA each time someone called Home Depot and the contents of that call were disclosed to third-party Google without prior consent from all parties to the call.”

Specifically, the initial complaint outlines the fact that “Section 631(a) of CIPA prohibits (i) intentional wiretapping, (ii) willfully attempting to learn the contents or meaning of a communication in transit over a wire, and (iii) attempting to use or communicate information obtained under (i) or (ii)” and that “this section also imposes liability upon any party who ‘aids, agrees with, employs, or conspires with any person or persons’ who violate provisions (i)-(iii) of § 631(a).”

Barulich’s suit comes after a series of interactions with Home Depot in October 2023. His communications started “with a Home Depot ‘virtual agent’ and then was transferred to a human Home Depot customer representative.” His legal team states that he “believed that all communications on these calls were only between himself and Home Depot,” and that he was not informed that Google was involved with monitoring or recording any of the calls.

“Plaintiff did not expect, or have any reason to believe, that Google was listening to the contents of his conversations and, without prior authorization, reading, attempting to read, or learning the contents or meaning of Plaintiff’s communications,” his legal team argues.

Barulich is bringing the suite on the belief that “Google used this CCAI technology to transcribe Plaintiff’s conversations in real time, analyze the contents of Plaintiff’s communications, and suggest possible replies to the live Home Depot agent on the phone.” The effects of these alleged actions are two-fold. According to the complaint, “Google profits from its deployment of CCAI by charging users, such as Home Depot, to use Google’s CCAI services,” and “Further, Google has the capability to use the contents of communications it intercepts for purposes beyond the scope of individual customer service calls. For example, Google can use information and data gleaned from customer service calls to Home Depot to further train or develop its AI models. On information and belief, Google uses customer service calls to train and refine its AI models.” By doing so, “Google’s CCAI did not act as a mere passive tool. Google CCAI is … a third party to conversations between callers and Home Depot. Instead of functioning like a tape recorder purchased by Home Depot, the use of CCAI allows Google itself to eavesdrop or wiretap into live conversations between callers and Home Depot.”

Due to the size of Home Depot’s California market—there are more than 200 Home Depot stores within the state—and the geographic distance between them, “even a small percentage of customers placing calls to Home Depot would satisfy Rule 23’s numerosity requirement” for a class-action lawsuit. The argument, in part, hinges on the fact that “[p]laintiff and class members did not consent to any of Google’s actions with regard to the conduct discussed herein. Moreover, plaintiff and class members could not have consented to Google’s actions because callers reasonably believed that their communications were between themselves and Home Depot.”

The initial complaint includes two counts under cause of action, both for violating CIPA, Cal. Penal Code § 631. The count against Google for using “CCAI, willfully and without the consent of all parties to the communication, or in any unauthorized manner, read, or attempted to read, or learn the contents or meaning of electronic communications of plaintiff and class members while the electronic communications were in transit or passing over any wire, line, or cable, or were being sent from or received at any place in California.” The second count is against Home Depot alleging that the company “knowingly and willingly enabled third-party Google to tap into live customer service calls and to learn the contents of those communications in real time.”

If accepted as a class-action suit and ruled in favor of the customers, damages would be “recoverable at $5,000 per violation” for each company.

The initial complaint was filed in February 2024.

Stay tuned to [DWM] for more information as it becomes available.

This article is from Door and Window Market [DWM] magazine's free e-newsletter that covers the latest door and window industry news. Click HERE to sign up—there is no charge. Interested in a deeper dive? Free subscriptions to [DWM] magazine in print or digital format are available. Subscribe at no charge HERE.

Tags: , , , , ,

Leave Comment