Tech Law

Robot Lawyer Faces Legal Troubles of Its Own

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Illinois consumer Matthew Hufnus says that on September 26, he received a number of text messages on his cellphone from a company named DoNotPay, Inc., attempting to solicit his business.

Taken together, the messages read: “Hey there, it’s Jen from DoNotPay — we know it’s a lot to ask for your payment details upfront, we really do. But here’s a statistic — DoNotPay users save an average of $450 in cold, hard cash per year. Sue robocallers, cancel free trials, and never have to deal with customer service again. If you aren’t satisfied, we’ll go ahead and delete your details and refund you in full.”

The messages allegedly urged Hufnus to sign up for the DoNotPay app, a service chatbot that DoNotPay bills as “The World’s First Robot Lawyer.”

According to DoNotPay, the app lets users appeal parking tickets in any city in the U.S.; cancel services or subscriptions; handle chargebacks and refunds; and, in short, get their money back for a variety of services they signed up for or to get free online trials of products or services.

DoNotPay is accused of sending the texts without first obtaining Hufnus’ express permission. That, together with the ask to sign up for services, makes those unsolicited advertising text messages, which violates the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), according to a complaint filed against DoNotPay by three law firms on December. 8.

The Act restricts telephone solicitation activities, including the use of automated telephone equipment, artificial or prerecorded voice messages, SMS text messages, and fax machines.

Class Action

The complaint against DoNotPay was filed in the United States District Court, Northern District of California, Case No. 3:20-cv-8701, on behalf of Hufnus and what may amount to “several thousands, if not more” Class members.

It contends DoNotPay launched a mass telemarketing campaign that sent text solicitations to these consumers without their prior express consent.

The law firms seek to have the case declared a class-action lawsuit and are asking for $500 in damages for each member of the class.

Mixed Reviews

DoNotPay founder Joshua Browder initially launched an AI-based app to fight parking tickets in 2015. By 2017, he had launched chatbots that covered 1,000 areas of law.

The performance of DoNotPay fluctuates wildly, according to reviews on Trustpilot. When TechNewsWorld last checked on December 17, 57 percent of 219 reviews on Trustpilot rated DoNotPay bad, and 40 percent rated it excellent. It should be noted that the majority of the Trustpilot reviews about DoNotPay, both positive and negative, were posted by users, with only one review of DoNotPay on Trustpilot. Most of the others had posted only two total reviews, and no posts we saw were by users with more than four reviews.

“Um, fairly certain this is a total scam,” wrote Annie Zylsrat on TrustPilot. “I just noticed this app has been charging my bank account for many many months, even though I have never even heard of them, let alone signed up. I can’t cancel the subscription because I don’t have an account. How they got my credit card info is beyond me and is actually super creepy. I’m not the kind of person who signs up for apps and forgets. I have literally never even seen this app or company before, yet they have a bunch of my money. Steer clear!!”

DoNotPay’s response was to tell Zylstra to contact its support team, which would help her cancel the subscription. It did not address the question of how she had got subscribed to its service.

“I’m not able to reply to Do Not Pay’s reply, but I will say here that I cannot cancel my subscription because I’ve never made one,” Zylstra wrote back. “I don’t have an account and have thoroughly checked to confirm this. And yet, my card goes on getting charged every month.”

DoNotPay negative review on Trustpilot

Several other complaints on Trustpilot relate to consumers being unaware they would have to pay for DoNotPay’s service and the company responding that it would work with them to rectify the matter.

“It is very hard to determine that DoNotPay is a fee-based service on their web page,” Michael Jude, a research director at IDC, told TechNewsWorld.

“Nowhere in the terms and conditions is the fee stated. This could be a case of misleading advertising.” However, he said that it’s possible consumers will be told DoNotPay is a fee-based service when they sign up.

The positive ratings “all seem to be associated with terminating spam email and texts,” Jude said. “There’s an irony for you: Assuming that case cited finds the chatbot to be spam, then it would be spam against spam.”

DoNotPay and its founder Joshua Browder did not respond to TechNewsWorld’s requests to provide comments for this story.

Richard Adhikari

Richard Adhikari has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2008. His areas of focus include cybersecurity, mobile technologies, CRM, databases, software development, mainframe and mid-range computing, and application development. He has written and edited for numerous publications, including Information Week and Computerworld. He is the author of two books on client/server technology. Email Richard.

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