McDonald’s Fights Back Against Class Allegations Surrounding AI Drive Thru Assistants

Elizabeth DiNardo, Esq. | Associate Counsel


On June 25, 2021, fast-food giant McDonald’s Corporation urged Northern District of Illinois Eastern Division Judge Charles R. Norgle, Sr. to toss out class claims alleging that the voice recognition technology utilized by the company’s drive-thru artificial intelligence (“AI”) voice assistant collects customers’ voiceprint biometrics without permission.

The suit was originally filed in Cook County Circuit Court on April 26, 2021, by named plaintiff Shannon Carpenter. The suit was later removed to federal court in the Northern District of Illinois on June 4, 2021. In the complaint, the plaintiff describes how sometime in 2020, in an effort to cut back on paid employees, McDonald’s began to implement an AI voice assistant in its drive-thru service.

The plaintiff goes on to describe how the defendant’s AI voice assistant extracts a customer’s voiceprint biometrics to determine such unique features of the customer’s voice such as pitch, volume, and duration. The claims also allege that it obtains identifying information such as the customer’s age, gender, accent, nationality, and national origin. Additionally, the plaintiff argues that the AI voice assistant goes beyond real-time voiceprint analysis and recognition and also incorporates ‘machine-learning routines” that utilize voiceprint recognition in combination with license plate scanning technology to identify unique customers regardless of which location they visit and present them with certain menu choices based on their past visits. The suit alleges that the defendant fails to inform its customers that their voiceprint biometrics are being collected when they interact with the AI voice assistant or obtains any consent from them to do so.

In its motion to dismiss, McDonald’s argued that the plaintiff fails to sufficiently allege a violation of the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act (“BIPA”).

The case is: Carpenter v. McDonald's Corp., Case No.: 1:21-cv-02906, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.

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