McDonald’s Sued Over Use Of AI In Drive-Thru Lanes

June 11, 2021 by Dave Haynes

QSR giant McDonald’s is being sued in its home state over its use of AI-driven recognition technologies in the drive-thru lane, with the court file citing invasion of privacy.

The customer is arguing that McDonald’s company violated the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act by not getting prior approval before using voice recognition technology in the drive-thru ordering process.

Restaurant Business reports:

Attorneys for Carpenter (the person suing) say in the lawsuit that Carpenter visited a McDonald’s location in Lombard, Ill., early last year, went through the drive-thru and had his order taken with the company’s artificial intelligence-based voice assistance—Apprente, which it bought in 2019.

McDonald’s has been testing that ordering technology in 10 locations in and around Chicago and has been working to improve its accuracy to expand that to other restaurants around the country. Operators view it as a potential labor-saving device by enabling orders to be taken at a drive-thru by machine rather than with a person.

The Illinois laws require that companies inform customers that they are collecting their biometric information, whether that’s video-based facial scans, voiceprints or fingerprints.

The lawsuit says that, by using voice recognition technology to take Carpenter’s order, McDonald’s collected his voiceprint information without his consent and therefore violated that act. The lawsuit says that the requirements “are straightforward and easily satisfied, often requiring little more than acquiring a written record of consent” to the practices.

McDonald’s collects customers’ voiceprint biometrics “to be able to correctly interpret customer orders and identify repeat customers to provide a tailored experience,” the lawsuit says.

The fast food giant has been an innovator in using AI/machine learning to optimize menu presentations in the drive-thru, to drive sales. McDonald’s even acquired an Israeli company, Dynamic Yield, to boost its capabilities.

The idea is that a mash-up of different technologies like loyalty apps data, pattern detection, license plate readers and voice recognition can very rapidly profile customers – particularly repeat customers – as they approach the zone where they will order.

If you have a sense of the type of customer that’s about to order, what that motorist sees on the menu may be different from what the previous customer saw, and what the next one will see. It is kind of like a super-charged version of training the order taker to ask “Would like fries with that?”

The story suggests this is just McDonald’s testing this around the Chicago area. That may be the voice recognition component, but the CEO said a year ago the Dynamic Yield AI tech was deployed in more than 11,000 drive-thrus, and was  boosting the average order value.

It is not at all surprising this has triggered a lawsuit, given the freak-out regularly seen when shoppers find out about any sort of camera-based or other tracking technologies are deployed in retail settings. As seems to often be the case, there is more upset over these physical tracking technologies like voice and face pattern, but not a whole bunch of upset about the tracking done on smartphones and in browsers.

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