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Are AI-Powered Marketing Bots Dangerous?

When they said our digital property might be in danger, I didn’t think the meant those digits!

What damage might digital advertising bots do if they run into situations that they weren’t programmed to expect and this “frustrates” them? And what is the digital marketing equivalent of breaking a seven-year-old child’s finger in frustration and confusion?

Seems like a couple of odd questions, that second one especially, but they came to mind as I read about a chess robot grabbing its opponent’s finger — the aforementioned seven-year-old — and breaking it. The child apparently was not playing by the rules that the robot expected.

The headline of that article is a bit click-bait-ish — we’re supposed to jump to the conclusion that the robot lashed out because it was losing to the child. In fact, it seems that the child was not aware he needed to let the robot bring its robotic arm back to the resting position before he made his own move.

Either way, the parallels to digital marketing and privacy still hold. As more and more marketing is taken over by AI and other forms of automation, it’s worth asking about the potential damage.

Top of the list for me is how our personal data will be used. It may be gathered by marketers with nothing but good intentions, but corporate pursuit of profits can lead to sale or rental of our data. And data aggregators are always busy trying to paint a more detailed and profitable picture of each of us.

Do those data aggregators and their bot representatives take more drastic measures if we don’t play by their rules? If we don’t give them the valuable data they are expecting?

The bots don’t particularly care, of course, but it’s worth remembering that the bots are programmed by humans. I’m not sure why the chess bot was programmed to grab anything other than a piece, but clearly this was an edge case that the coding team hadn’t considered.

What edge cases are AI-powered advertising bots not programmed to consider? Those who are coding advertising bots aren’t playing a game, of course. This is how they make their living. So while I wouldn’t expect them to break anyone’s fingers, real or virtual, they are already trying to find workarounds to privacy settings you may have added to your browser. This is something that Brave, the privacy-focused browser, is already running into. I’m sure others are hard at work trying to circumvent Apple’s blocking of email tracking.

This all reminds me of the arms race web developers have been waging with hackers since the web’s earliest days. Except this time, it’s not overtly malicious malware we’re fighting, but otherwise legitimate marketers.

I wonder if we aren’t on the cusp of a sea change. As more consumers become annoyed by the barrage of cookie popups and other tools meant to make us aware of our privacy “options” and as marketers get fed up with the patchwork of privacy regulations with which they must contend, we may see a move toward solutions that change the definition of privacy in a digital world.

I’ll share some interesting developments on that front in my next column. Until then, keep your fingers and toes away from any bots you come across.

Andrew Schulkind

Since 1996, Andrew Schulkind has asked clients one simple question: what does digital marketing success look like, and how can marketing progress be measured? A veteran content marketer, web developer, and digital strategist, Andrew founded Andigo New Media to help firms find a more strategic and productive mix of tools that genuinely support online brand goals over time. With a passion for true collaboration and meaningful consensus, his work touches social media, search-engine optimization, and email marketing, among other components. He views is primary goal as encouraging engagement. Getting an audience involved in your story requires solid information architecture, a great user experience, and compelling content. A dash of common sense doesn’t hurt, either. Andrew has presented at Social Media Week NY and WordCampNYC, among other events, on content marketing and web-development topics. His technology writing appears on the Andigo blog, in a monthly column on Biznology.com, and for print and online publications like The New York Enterprise Report, Social Media Today, and GSG Worldwide’s publications LinkedIn & Business, Facebook & Business, and Tweeting & Business. Andrew graduated with a B.A. in Philosophy from Bucknell University. He engages in a range of community volunteer work and is an avid fly fisherman and cyclist. He also loves collecting meaningless trivia. (Did you know the Lone Ranger made his mask from the cloth of his brother's vest after his brother was killed by "the bad guys?")

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