Feb 9, 2024 - News

FCC bans AI voices in robocalls after scams linked to North Texas

A robot hand holds a phone and a human hand uses scissors to cut the cord

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The Federal Communications Commission has declared the use of AI-generated voices in scam robocalls illegal.

Why it matters: The new rule went into effect immediately Thursday, days after fake robocalls interfering with last month's New Hampshire primary were tied to a Texas company and a serial entrepreneur in Arlington.

  • The calls faked President Biden's voice discouraging people from voting in the primary.

The big picture: Generative AI is making voice scams easier to believe and unsolicited robocalls have been used to "extort vulnerable family members, imitate celebrities, and misinform voters," per the FCC.

Between the lines: While using AI to perpetrate a scam or fraud was already illegal, now using AI to generate voices in such calls is itself illegal.

  • A bipartisan coalition of 26 state attorneys general wrote to the FCC supporting the change. Texas AG Ken Paxton was not among them.

What happened: Ahead of New Hampshire's primary, which Biden won, an AI-generated voice purporting to be the president said in robocalls that votes would be better spent in November and that a primary vote helped former President Trump, writes Axios' Sareen Habeshian and Rebecca Falconer.

  • The New Hampshire attorney general office named the sources of the calls as Arlington-based Life Corporation and Walter Monk, who was identified as running the company. Calls to the business went straight to voicemail and messages weren't returned.
  • Plus, the originating voice service provider for many of the calls was Texas-based Lingo Telecom, which suspended its work with Life Corporation after learning about the investigation.

Details: Monk describes himself on LinkedIn as "obsessed" with starting businesses, claiming to have done everything from selling beer in South Dakota to buying a Minnesota beef jerky plant and attempting to catch lobsters in Hawaii.

  • He also ran the political polling service, Pollmakers, and won the Fort Worth Inc. Entrepreneurs in Excellence Award in 2021

The intrigue: CNN reported that companies tied to Monk were paid by about 140 federal campaigns and PACs between 2004 and 2022, with most of the work occurring in the 2018 election cycle.

  • Campaign records said the spending was for robocalls, polling and marketing, per CNN.
  • Both parties paid Monk's companies, but the biggest spenders were connected to the GOP.

By the numbers: Americans are subject to more than 4 billion robocalls per month, according to an index maintained by YouMail.

The bottom line: The 2024 presidential election cycle is expected to inundate voters with texts and calls, so beware the source.

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