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McDonald's Is Being Sued By a Customer Over Its Latest Technology

The chain's new drive-thru AI technology allegedly violates privacy laws.

McDonald's latest tech upgrade which uses artificial intelligence could vastly improve the efficiency of the chain's drive-thru in the future. But some customers aren't thrilled by the prospect of placing their orders through an automated system that ends up collecting voice data without their consent.

The chain's CEO Chris Kempczinski recently said that the company is testing new voice-recognition technology at several Chicago-area restaurants. Besides eliminating the need for human employees, the AI could improve the speed and accuracy of drive-thru orders. However, Kempczinski noted a systemwide rollout is still a ways away.

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"Now 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," he said.

And while the reality of AI drive-thrus is still far in the future, one customer is raising a red flag on the legality of such an operational setup. According to his recently filed lawsuit, McDonald's doesn't have permission to use voice-recognition software on customers without their prior approval. In doing so, the fast-food giant is in violation of the Illinois state law. He is suing the chain for using the technology to capture his voice data without permission at one of the Chicago-area test sites in 2020.

Using a voice-recognition system to identify repeat customers, which is exactly what McDonald's plans to do with the technology, violates Illinois' Biometric Information Privacy Act. BIPA states that collecting biometric information such as voiceprints, fingerprints, facial scans, handprints, and palm scans requires consent from the parties in question. The voiceprints collected by the AI technology can identify customers' pitch, volume, and other unique qualities. The law also requires McDonald's to make its data retention policies public and clarify how long the information collected will be stored and how it will be used.

Furthermore, the lawsuit alleges that McDonald's connects the unique voice information to license plates to more easily recognize customers at any location they end up going to.

"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," the lawsuit says.

McDonald's didn't immediately return our request for comment.

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Mura Dominko
Mura is a Deputy Editor leading ETNT's coverage of America's favorite fast foods and restaurant chains. Read more