Microsoft was almost sued by Taylor Swift for its controversial “Tay” chatbot

Kareem Anderson

After months of testing and tweaking, Microsoft brought over the Chinese chatbot XiaoIce to the United States in the Spring of 2016 and the company learned some very valuable lessons in a short amount of time, one of them being, pop star Taylor Swift was not a fan.

Chief among Microsoft’s learning lessons with its conversational chatbot known as XioaIce in China and Tay in the United States was that teenagers from the two different nations interacted with the AI-powered services quite differently. In China, some teenagers developed a genuinely reciprocal relationship with the chatbot where upwards of a quarter of an hour was spent sharing personal information with it.

However, in the US, Tay faired much worse, especially when exposed to individuals on Twitter. In a shockingly short amount of time, Tay went from an unjudgmental listening service by design to a hate-spewing racist reciting verbiage it was fed repeatedly from users gaming the algorithm.

Not only did Microsoft have a problem with the way Tay was evolving, but apparently before the company ultimately pulled the plug on the experiment it was about to have issues with the trademark savvy legal team of pop star Taylor Swift.

According to a report from The Guardian, Microsoft President Brad Smith said Taylor Swift’s legal team contacted him via email to inform him that the company’s Tay chatbot name was in violation of federal and state laws having to deal with the pop stars applied trademark.

“I was on vacation when I made the mistake of looking at my phone during dinner. An email had just arrived from a Beverly Hills lawyer who introduced himself by telling me: ‘We represent Taylor Swift, on whose behalf this is directed to you. He went on to state that ‘the name Tay, as I’m sure you must know, is closely associated with our client.’ No, I actually didn’t know, but the email nonetheless grabbed my attention. The lawyer went on to argue that the use of the name Tay created a false and misleading association between the popular singer and our chatbot and that it violated federal and state laws,” Smith adds.

For the moment, it’s unclear at what point in Tay’s US release the email was sent or whether or not the entire experiment was yanked due to the potential of a lengthy legal battle that would pit Microsoft against some of its younger user base.

Nevertheless, Tay was shut down and the Taylor Swift incident remains just a cautionary anecdote for Smith and his upcoming fourth book titled Tools and Weapons. Tay was only available in the US for a brief 18 hours before it was shelved.