Why Are Bots Taking over the Internet

Why are robots invading the internet? | Jumpstart Magazine

Here’s why it’s getting harder and harder to tell who’s human and who’s a robot.

Almost everyone reading this article must have done a captcha test at some point. CAPTCHA stands for Fully Automated Public Turing Test to Distinguish Computers from Humans and is used to determine whether a user is a human or a bot.

Websites have had to use captcha tests to prevent blocking software from spamming comment sections on a website or buying items in bulk. The need for measures to block bots continues to grow as, in 2021, 64% of all internet activity was conducted by bots. Curious to know what these bots are doing and why there is so much bot activity on the internet? Let’s find out!

What are bots?

Robots are software that have been programmed to mimic human behavior. They are typically used to automate tasks, such as customer service or search engine indexing. You must have come across some of these robots on the internet. One of the most common is chatbots. These are used to respond to user queries without the need to involve customer service managers (i.e. humans). Another common type of bot you may have come across is the shopping bot which helps users get the best deals on products by comparing prices of the same item across many different online storefronts.

But for every good bot that helps businesses, there are bad ones that websites need to be protected against. Here are some of the main ones you should be wary of—

Social bots

These bots are used to perform tasks such as inflating views or likes on a post, spreading misinformation, or influencing discussions on social media platforms.

They gained more attention recently during the Johnny Depp libel suit against Amber Heard when Heard claimed a smear campaign was being waged against her on the internet using bots.

Click on scam robots

These are robots that are used to generate a large amount of traffic for paid advertisements. One of the most common advertising models is pay-per-click, where the advertiser has to pay a fee based on the number of people who see the ad. Click fraud bots inflate this number of clicks without ever generating an equivalent profit for the advertiser. This caught the attention of the general public when, in 2021, Russian national Aleksandr Zhukov was convicted of ad network fraud by posting their advertisements on spoofed versions of websites, such as The New York Times and The New York Daily News, and showing these ads to robots instead of real people.

Distributed denial of service (DDoS bots)

These bots are used to flood websites with fake traffic, making them unavailable to legitimate users. One of the most famous examples of this is MyDoom. This computer virus sends spam to email addresses collected from infected devices and then uses the infected computers to launch DDoS attacks.

Why do bots run rampant?

They can be used for profit

The main reason why bots are overtaking human activity on the Internet is because businesses benefit from them. Bots can get inflated views of websites and make them more popular than they actually are. So, some companies don’t want to investigate bot traffic to avoid affecting their website’s performance. Similarly, in the ad space, digital ad exchanges (who act as intermediaries buying and selling ad space) don’t want to highlight the fact that they have bogus websites and apps in their list (like us explained in the case of Aleksandr Zhukov) . This is because it gives them a high traffic volume which in turn makes the exchange more money.

They are hard to follow

Another reason for the rampant increase in bot activity is that it is becoming increasingly difficult to identify what is a bot and what is not. This is especially true when it comes to social bots. Most bot detection algorithms use account behavior to determine if it is being run by a bot or a human. But these can be ineffective. So ineffective, in fact, that the most popular bot detection tool, Botometer, found Elon Musk’s Twitter account to look like a bot. He gave Musk’s account a 4 out of 5 on how he behaved like a bot. Social media platforms also have many cyborg robot accounts, which are sometimes controlled by humans and robots at other times. Since cyborg robot accounts switch between the two, they tend to fall through the cracks.

So where does all of this lead us?

Well, that tells us that whether we like it or not, we’ll have to sift through bot-created content on the internet. Some conspiracy theorists have even noted that the World Wide Web died in 2016 or 2017 and has since been largely comprised of AI-generated content, bots, and a handful of influencers employed by giant corporations.

As a real human on the internet writing this article, I think this theory is pretty far-fetched. But it is undeniable that there are a lot of bots on the Internet. Nearly 40% of bot traffic on the Internet is made up of malicious bots, and they are getting smarter and harder to catch over time. So, as much as we hate wasting time on captcha tests, we are going to have to go through increasingly difficult tests to be recognized as “real” humans in the future.

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Header image courtesy of Freepik

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