Anyone who spends time reading blogs and using web analytics would come across the term “bot” – usually with a negative connotation. This article hopes to briefly clarify what bots are, what they do, and why they have such a bad reputation.
What Exactly Is A Bot?
The standard definition of a bot is a code or software that is capable of repeating a specific task endlessly, without human intervention. This makes it much easier to perform tasks that would require a lot of time when done manually.
For example, a Twitch viewer bot may be designed to create new Twitch accounts and view a specific stream in order to artificially increase the viewer numbers of the stream. Some websites, such as StreamOZ claim to increase viewer numbers without the use of bots – usually by paying actual people to watch a livestream.
Of course, this option is much more time consuming. The speed at which a bot can work depends solely on the processing power of the system running it – meaning it has the potential to be extremely fast.
Why Do Bots Have Such a Bad Reputation?
Because bots are capable of running the same task a million times (or more) without human intervention, their use is frowned upon and may even be against the terms and conditions of some websites. In the example on Twitch we’ve provided above, a bot could give those accounts which use it an unfair advantage over competitors.
Bots are also used to hack into accounts by using trial and error to “guess” passwords – by simply going through every single possible combination of letters and numbers that could possibly be the password. These are only a few of the examples of the many uses of bots that are based on malicious intent. In the end, bots are a program and thus cannot be inherently good or bad.
They are only as good (or bad) as the programmer that uses them. Some bots have even been used to manipulate election results in the past – by repeatedly tweeting for or against a candidate in hopes of swaying the election according to the programmer’s preferences.
Are There Any Legitimate Uses Of Bots?
While they get a lot of negative views, not all bots are bad. Remember the concept of garbage in, garbage out – which means that whether a code is good or bad is irrelevant. The only thing that matters is whether it is being used for good or bad things.
Compare it to a gun – the same gun can be used for protection, or used for murder. Similarly, some bots are put to good use. A prime example of legitimate bots are those that search engines use to scrape data from the internet. Without bots, search engines would not function at all.
There are several other ways that bots can be used legitimately, but for every legal use for them, there may be tens of attempts to create bots with malicious intent. Thus sparks the controversy of their use.
Governments may regularly attempt to control the use of bots, allowing only legitimate uses. However, some hackers are able to disguise their malicious intent with a legitimate use for the bot.
For example, some hackers provide a legitimate web scraping service for search engines, but secretly add a code within their program that allows them to store personal data and sell it to marketers and other willing customers.
This is a violation of people’s privacy, hiding behind the ruse of a legitimate bot. This may be legal or illegal in different countries and states – but many people are uncomfortable with the concept nonetheless.
Where Does The Average Internet User Come Across Bots?
About half the traffic on the internet is generated by bots. Unfortunately, a larger portion of that bot-generated traffic is of the bad kind. If you have ever read an article that sounds fake, it was probably a bot that wrote it.
Cryptocurrency miners also use bots to speed up the gargantuan task, in much the same way hackers try to “crack” passwords. These may not be accessible to the average internet user, but most people are familiar with these processes – even if on a basic level.
The main reason that cryptocurrency mining is viewed as bad for the environment is because of the alarmingly high amounts of energy (electric) required to run high-power processors fast enough to use bots for cryptocurrency mining.
You should mostly worry if you are going to use a bot yourself, or a service that runs on bots. Many websites prohibit the use of bots, so beware of accidentally using them, lest you find yourself in a complex legal situation.
The least consequence you would need to worry about is being banned from the website. The worst? Criminal charges – and that is not something to be taken lightly.
Can Bots Cause Harm To You?
You may be wondering what would happen if you used a website that uses a bot – would it harm you? Well, of course it depends on the type of bot and what the programmer’s intention is.
The bots may be considered malware, or a computer virus – because a programmer can create a loop in your computer to damage it, formatting your hard drive repeatedly. Another common type of bot is used on social media, where your account can be “hacked into” and you will find that you’ve shared millions of posts at an alarming rate.
Of course, Facebook or other social media platforms have systems in place to detect bot accounts so your account will likely be banned for a short period of time as the issue is being resolved.
In short, bots are a useful type of software with millions of potential uses. But like anything useful, their use depends on the person behind them. Just as they have potential to advance technology and open up new opportunities for the world, they also have the potential to do harm.
So unless you are wholeheartedly confident that you are allowed to use a bot, stay on the safe side and avoid it.