Is Your Chat with Customer Service Private? Home Depot Class Action Suggests Maybe Not

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Alleged Eavesdropping in Home Depot's Customer Service Calls Puts Privacy on the Line

When you're on the phone with customer service, discussing which nails to use for your deck or the best shade of green for your kitchen, you'd assume it's just you and the representative, right? Here's a twist: Home Depot, your go-to for home improvement supplies, is facing a class action lawsuit over claims that it let Google's artificial intelligence (AI) program listen in on customer calls without a heads-up to the folks on the line.

Is Your Call Being Recorded for More Than Quality Assurance?

Plaintiff Christopher Barulich claims that "Google's CCAI technology was used to transcribe his conversations in real time, analyze their content, and even suggest responses to the Home Depot agent on the line." It appears that while customers were seeking advice on products like which wrench to purchase, Google's AI might have been closely monitoring every word.

The center of these allegations is the accusation that Home Depot violated customer privacy by implementing Google’s Cloud Contact Center AI (CCAI). This technology is said to have enabled Google to listen in, record, and scrutinize the details of customer calls as they occurred, all without any prior consent from those on the call.

Law360 reports that Barulich is taking a stand against both Google and Home Depot over what he sees as a significant privacy invasion. He claims that since 2021, or possibly before, the two companies have been in cahoots, allowing Google's AI to eavesdrop on live customer service interactions without informing customers or obtaining their consent.

He further alleges that when he reached out to Home Depot’s customer service, there was no indication that Google would be actively monitoring and transcribing the call.

"Google's CCAI wasn't just a passive bystander," according to the lawsuit. Instead, the AI technology actively engaged, picking up nuances from discussions about whether a particular paint color would complement your curtains. This setup was far from a simple recording meant for quality training; if what's alleged holds true, Google's AI was practically a third wheel on your customer service date.

CIPA says 'No Way' to eavesdropping

"The California Invasion of Privacy Act prohibits the surreptitious third-party monitoring and recording of phone calls carried out by Home Depot and Google in this case," says the class action lawsuit. That's lawyer speak for "you can't record someone's call without their okay." And if you do? Well, Home Depot and Google might just have to answer to more than a frustrated customer.

If Home Depot and Google did overstep their bounds, CIPA could penalize them up to $5,000 for every call that was recorded without permission. With the volume of calls a major retailer receives, that could add up to a significant figure.

"I didn't sign up for this", says plaintiff

Barulich, didn't mince words when he said, “Plaintiff was not aware, and had no reason to believe, that his communications were simultaneously being disclosed to a third party: Google.” He's looking for the court to put a stop to the alleged recording and to award damages for each infraction. 

What does this all mean for the average Home Depot customer? If the allegations hold true, it's not just about getting the right screws for your bookshelf; it's about your personal inquiries possibly helping to "train and refine" Google's AI technology. It begs the question: Should customers be informed when their calls are part of something bigger than just customer service?

The plaintiff is represented by Nicholas C. Soltman of Kinsella Holley Iser Kump Steinsapir LLP and Anthony G. Simon and Jeremiah W. Nixon of The Simon Law Firm PC.

The Home Depot CIPA class action lawsuit is Barulich v. The Home Depot Inc., et al., Case No. 2:24-cv-01253, in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.

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