Meta's new chatbots could result in an increase in data collection, while also confusing young users by muddying the distinction between ads and content, Senator Ed Markey said this week in a letter urging the company to hold off on releasing the features.
“These chatbots could create new privacy harms and exacerbate those already prevalent on your platforms, including invasive data collection, algorithmic discrimination, and manipulative advertisements,” Markey (D-Massachusetts) wrote to Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg. “I strongly urge you to pause the release of any AI chatbots until Meta understands the effect that such products will have on young users.”
The letter came the same day Meta unveiled plans to integrate chatbots powered by artificial intelligence into WhatsApp, Messenger, and Instagram.
Markey contended that algorithms have already “caused serious harms” to consumers, such as “collecting and storing detailed personal information” and “facilitating housing discrimination against communities of color.”
He added that while chatbots can benefit people, they also pose risks. The lawmaker specifically flagged the possibility that chatbots could cloud the distinction between ads and content.
“Young users may not realize that a chatbot’s response is actually advertising for a product or service,” Markey writes. “Generative AI also has the potential to adapt and target advertising to an 'audience of one,' making ads even more difficult for young users to identify.”
Markey also said the chatbots could make social media platforms more “addictive” to users.
“By creating the appearance of chatting with a real person, chatbots may significantly expand users’ -- especially younger users’ -- time on the platform, allowing the platform to collect more of their personal information and profit from advertising,” he wrote. “With chatbots threatening to supercharge these problematic practices, Big Tech companies, such as Meta, should abandon this 'move fast and break things' ethos and proceed with the utmost caution.”
The lawmaker is asking Meta to respond to a host of questions about the new chatbots, including ones focused on privacy and advertising.
Among other questions, Markey is asking what role chatbots will play in data collection, and whether Meta will agree to refrain from using any data collected from them to target ads to young users. He also asks whether Meta will include ads in the chatbots, and if so, how it will ensure those ads don't confuse minors.
A Meta spokesperson said the company received the letter.
Meta also said in a blog post it's working with the government and others “to establish responsible guardrails,” and is training the chatbots around safety.
For instance, the tools “will suggest local suicide and eating disorder organizations in response to certain queries, while making it clear that it cannot provide medical advice,” Meta wrote.