SACRAMENTO (CBS13) – It is now against the law for businesses to secretly use bots online.

Governor Brown signed Senate Bill 1001, making it illegal for businesses to use bots in order to “communicate or interact with another person in California online, with the intent to mislead the other person about its artificial identity for the purpose of knowingly deceiving the person about the content of the communication in order to incentivize a purchase or sale of goods or services in a commercial transaction or to influence a vote in an election. A person using a bot shall not be liable under this section if the person discloses that it is a bot.”

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The ban goes into effect on July 1, 2019.

A bot is considered an “automated online account on an online platform that is designed to mimic or behave like the account of a person.”

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In November of 2017, Facebook told investors that up to 60 million bots may operate on the social media platform.

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The bill’s author, Senator Robert Hertzberg (D-Los Angeles), said, “bots can be – and are often – weaponized to spread fake and misleading news, reshape political debates, and influence advertising audiences…SB 1001 sheds light on the fake accounts that simulate real people and spread waves of false information across social media platforms. On the Internet where the appearance of a mass audience can be monetized, it is critical to protect users by providing the tools to understand if their information is coming from a human or a bot account disguised as one. As long as bots are properly identified to let users know that they are a computer generated or automated account, users can at least be aware of who they are interacting with and judge the content accordingly.”

The Senate Rules Committee Analyses cited a 2017 study by the University of Southern California and Indiana University. Researchers found that an estimated
48 million Twitter users were actually automated accounts.

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In February, 13 Russians and three businesses were charged by the U.S. Department of Justice with creating and posting fake content and inflammatory statements during the 2016 election, then using bots to like, share, and retweet that content.

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The Common Sense Kids Action supported SB 1001. A number of agencies, including the California Chamber of Commerce, the California Grocers Association, the Data and Marketing Association, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, opposed the bill. They wrote: ““aspects of the bill are vague, and the bill places onerous burdens on the operators of websites and applications.” They also said the bill requirements “are burdensome and could diminish the functionality and the speed of impacted websites, while failing to stop bad actors.”