McDonald’s is being sued for recording customers’ biometric data at its new artificially intelligent-powered drive-thru windows without getting their consent.
In court filings, Shannon Carpenter, a customer at a McDonald’s in Lombard, Illinois, claims the system violates Illinois’ Biometric Information Privacy Act, or BIPA, by not getting his approval before using voice-recognition technology to take his order.
BIPA requires companies to inform customers their biometric information—including voiceprints, facial features, fingerprints and other unique physiological features—is being collected.
Illinois is only one of a handful of states with biometric privacy laws, but they are considered the most stringent.
A McDonald’s customer in Chicago is suing the burger chain, claiming it records and stores users’ voiceprints without their written consent, in violation of Illinois strict biometric privacy law
In 2020, the fast-food chain began testing out using voice-recognition software in lieu of human servers at 10 locations in and around Chicago.
The system also records collects customers’ voiceprints.
As reported in court filings, Carpenter drove through the pull-up window early last year, and rather than a human operator, his order was taken by the company’s new artificial intelligence-based voice assistance program, Apprente.
According to Shannon’s suit, the chain maintains it collects customers’ voiceprints ‘to be able to correctly interpret customer orders and identify repeat customers to provide a tailored experience,’ Restaurant Business Online reported.
Carpenter, whose lawsuit was moved to federal court this month, is seeking class status, meaning that if McDonald’s is found guilty, it will have to pay out to everyone who has ever used the AI drive-thrus.
McDonald’s rolled out the AI-powered pull-up window in 2020, after acquiring conversational technology startup Apprente in 2019.
‘McDonald’s AI voice assistant goes beyond real-time voiceprint analysis and recognition and also incorporates ‘machine-learning routines’ that utilize voice recognition in combination with license plate scanning technology to identify unique customers regardless of which location they visit and present them with certain menu items based on their past visits.’
‘McDonald’s fails to inform its customers that their voiceprint biometrics are being collected when they interact with the Al voice assistant or obtain any consent from them to do so,’ the lawsuit alleges. ‘Nor does McDonald’s have a publicly available data retention policy that discloses what McDonald’s does with the voiceprint biometric data it obtains or how long it is stored for.’
McDonald’s has not yet responded to a request for comment from DailyMail.com.
The fast-food chain began testing voice-recognition software last year at 10 locations in and around Chicago. But the system hasn’t gone off without a hitch, with close to one in five orders made with Apprente ultimately needing a human worker to step in.
A customer posted their experience with the Siri-like technology on TikTok, calling it ‘most dystopian thing I have ever seen in the 27 years of my life.’
The technology aims to shorten the wait at the drive-thru, but CEO Chris Kempczinski admitted it may not be rolled out at all McDonald’s locations.
‘There’s a big leap from going to 10 restaurants in Chicago to 14,000 restaurants across the U.S., with an infinite number of promo permutations, menu permutations, dialect permutations, weather — and on and on and on,’ Kempczinski said, per CNBC.
McDonald’s announced in 2019 that it had acquired conversational technology startup Apprente, with a plan to integrate its systems with services such as drive-thru menus, self-order kiosks and a mobile app.
In November 2020, former McDonald’s workers in Illinois filed a class-action suit, alleging the fast-food giant violates BIPA because it ‘mishandles’ employees’ biometric information
‘We’ve never been more focused on improving the experience of the drive-through, in particular, the speed of service,’ McDonald’s said in a 2019 earnings report, following the acquisition.
Former CEO Steve Easterbrook said the acquisition would make it ‘simpler and even more enjoyable for crew members to serve guests.’
That same year, the House of Ronald McDonald acquired Israeli digital startup Dynamic Yield with similar plans to use AI to improve diners’ experience.
‘We’re leveraging technology to improve and modernize the way we connect with customers,’ Easterbrook told investors, according to Nation’s Restaurant News. ‘We’re confident about the road ahead.’
Replacing human workers with robots and AI has been a hot topic for years, amid demands that the federal minimum wage increase to $15.
McDonald’s has also talked about plans to automate its kitchens with robotic fryers and grills.
‘It’s cheaper to buy a $35,000 robotic arm than it is to hire an employee who’s inefficient making $15 an hour bagging French fries,’ former McDonald’s CEO Ed Rensi told Fox Business in May 2016.
‘If you can’t get people for a reasonable minimum wage, you’re going to get machines to do the work.’
McDonald’s is already facing a class action suit in Illinois filed by workers who claim it mishandled their biometric data.
Eight former workers filed a class-action complaint in the St. Clair County Circuit Court in November 2020, alleging BIPA violations because McDonald’s never gave them notice or requested written consent to capture and store their biometric data.
The plaintiffs maintain McDonald’s requires their franchises to use the company’s system-wide program which ‘mishandles’ employees’ biometric information, The Madison-St. Clair Record reported.
Other major companies have run afoul of the BIPA before. In February, TikTok paid $92 million to settle a class-action lawsuit claiming it violated the law.
Facebook paid out $650 million in 2015 in a similar case, and five years later, was hit with another class-action suit claiming it used the same tool on Instagram.
In 2019, security firm Suprema revealed that a vast data breach exposed the biometric information, including fingerprints and facial scans, of millions of people.