Consumer Protection

Free AI Chatbot Goes to Bat for Beleaguered Consumers

DoNotPay, an AI-based chatbot app created to help fight parking tickets in the UK, now addresses roughly 1,000 consumer concerns and is available throughout the United States as well as across the pond. The app’s creator, Stanford University student Joshua Browder, announced the expansion last week.

Powered by IBM Watson, DoNotPay has about 1,000 bots capable of tackling a variety of legal and service issues, ranging from fighting one’s landlord to appealing against unreasonable warranties, to getting a refund when a company doesn’t fulfill its promise.

The app lets users use a feature similar to instant messaging to get help.

When opened, the app presents a blue screen that asks what it can help the user with, and offers a search field in which the user can type a response.

It then triggers a series of options. The user selects the appropriate one, and a bot fills in PDFs or generates letters based on the information entered by the user.

DoNotPay also offers an extra help option. Clicking on it triggers a blank email addressed to DoNotPay support in the UK. Users supply their own details and are promised a response within 24 hours.

The app apparently can connect users to outside help, such as selected agencies, as well.

“Though DoNotPay focuses specifically on guiding consumers through commonplace but complex legal forms and issues, it’s easy to see how the company’s approach to using a bot-enabled infrastructure might be applicable in related circumstances,” observed Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT.

“Pursuing small-time fraudsters and broken device contracts are areas where the complexity of the process subtracts substantially from the potential benefits,” he told CRM Buyer. “If [the app] can fix that, more power to them.”

How the App Works

The app does a reasonable job interpreting natural language requests on the whole.

For example, typing in the word “warranty” in the search field triggered a bot that would help file a demand for a refund for an item with impractical and unreasonable warranty guidelines, and the extra help request field.

Consumers whose needs aren’t met by the 1,000 bots still can get assistance directly from DoNotPay. For example, typing in “medical bill” or “bank overcharges” triggered the extra help field, which lets users email the app’s support staff with their problem.

“We’ve needed something like this for a while,” said Laura DiDio, principal analyst at ITIC.

“A lot of people don’t have the time or energy or the type of personality where they’re going to keep [pursuing a solution].” she told CRM Buyer, “and this app will be very useful there.”

Some Tweaking Needed

The app automatically verifies a user’s location and provides the relevant information for that locality.

For example, typing in the words “parking dispute” from a San Francisco location triggered options to dispute a parking ticket in Los Angeles, San Francisco and two other California cities.

It also served up an option to appeal parking tickets in Washington, D.C.

In response to a “landlord dispute” search, DoNotPay served up options for fixing unrepaired property and retrieving an unreturned security deposit in California, along with parking dispute options for California.

Need for Consumer Protection

The current political climate could mean more consumers soon may be seeking DoNotPay’s help.

For example, the U.S. House of Representatives has passed the Financial Choice Act, which will reverse the Dodd-Frank banking reforms put into place after the global banking crisis of 2008.

“Some companies and bad actors are actively exploiting loopholes in regulations and laws meant to protect consumers,” King noted. “If DoNotPay can help close those off, the company deserves ample success.”

There’s “always a need for services where an organization can cut through red tape,” DiDio remarked. “I could see where [this app] could change the landscape quite a bit.”

Richard Adhikari

Richard Adhikari has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2008. His areas of focus include cybersecurity, mobile technologies, CRM, databases, software development, mainframe and mid-range computing, and application development. He has written and edited for numerous publications, including Information Week and Computerworld. He is the author of two books on client/server technology. Email Richard.

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