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Chatbot’s Actions: Who is responsible?

Accountability for Chatbots

According to CBC News, Canada’s largest airline, Air Canada, was held accountable for the actions of its errant chatbot. The chatbot provided incorrect advice to an online customer on plane tickets. The Civil Resolution Tribunal (CRT) in British Columbia, ordered the organization to compensate the victim. Although this was a small claims case however,  it highlights the responsibilities of organizations and the tools they deploy through their websites to interact with their customers.

Virtual Assistants

Chatbots have revolutionized the way people interact with technology, making it more accessible, personal, and convenient.  They are increasingly popular tools for automating tasks in today’s digital world. Many applications, such as customer service, marketing, education, and entertainment have chatbots integrated into them. Many websites, messaging apps, and social media platforms, have resident chatbots that facilitate user interactions and engagements. Who is responsible for a chatbot’s actions?

What are Chatbots?


Chatbots, also known as virtual assistants, are computer programs that use artificial intelligence (AI) to carry out conversations with humans via text or speech. They simulate human interaction by understanding the user’s input and generating appropriate responses. Chatbots carry out tasks based on the user’s instructions. They are designed to mimic human conversation using natural language processing (NLP).

Validating the Algorithms

As independent as a chatbot may seem, the responsibility for its actions ultimately rests with the creators and operators of the chatbot. This includes the developers who design and program the chatbot, as well as the companies or organizations that deploy and manage the chatbot. The developers have a responsibility to ensure that the chatbot’s algorithms and responses are accurate, ethical, and comply with relevant regulations and laws. They should test and validate the chatbot’s behavior, especially in cases where the chatbot interacts with sensitive data or handles critical tasks.

Using Secure Development Practices

Developers should approach the development of their chatbots using a secure SDLC (software development lifecycle) approach. SDLC provides a structured framework for developing high-quality software. By following the different stages of SDLC, such as requirements gathering, design, implementation, testing, and maintenance, chatbot developers can ensure that their chatbots are reliable, efficient, and effective. SDLC helps identify and mitigate risks early in the development process. This can help prevent potential issues, such as security vulnerabilities or compliance violations, that could impact the performance or reputation of the chatbot.

Alignment with Organizational Values

Companies  that deploy chatbots should also be responsible for ensuring that the chatbot’s behavior aligns with their values and policies. They should monitor the chatbot’s performance and conduct regular reviews of its behavior. Chatbot operators must take corrective action if the chatbot exhibits harmful or inappropriate behavior.

Accountability and Legal Responsibilities

In some cases, the legal responsibility for a chatbot’s actions may also fall on the organization that owns or operates the chatbot. This could include liability for damages caused by the chatbot’s behavior, such as discrimination, privacy violations, or other harms. In certain circumstances, a company may not be directly responsible for the actions of the chatbot.  If the chatbot is not directly controlled by the company, for example, if it’s an open-source chatbot that anyone can access, the company may not be held liable for its actions. Also, if a chatbot’s actions are due to a user’s misuse, such as intentionally trying to trick the chatbot into producing harmful or inappropriate responses, the company may not be held liable.

Exercising the Duty of Care

Regardless of any legalese, companies should ensure that their chatbots operate responsibly and ethically. An organization should take reasonable steps to prevent inappropriate behavior from its chatbot by implementing appropriate safeguards. The chatbot should be trained to avoid harmful or inappropriate responses. The first step is to identify the risks associated with chatbots and take measures to mitigate them. Chatbots must be programmed to comply with relevant laws and regulations, such as data privacy regulations and anti-discrimination laws. Listening to user feedback and addressing any concerns about chatbot behavior can help to improve the duty of care.

Most important of all, organizations must provide clear disclosures to users about the chatbots, including their capabilities and limitations, and explain that chatbots are not human.



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