Are All Bots Bad Bots?

Are All Bots Bad Bots?

Automated traffic on the Internet has increased sharply in recent years. According to Imperva's research, 50% of all Internet traffic comes from bots, both good and bad ones. 

Good bots help rank content in search engines, automate routine tasks, recommend videos on YouTube, suggest artists on Spotify, interact with users on websites, post content on social media, and more. These bots handle tasks that are harmless for websites and users. 

On the other hand, there are bad bots. They are responsible for DDoS attacks, account and personal information theft, website hacking, spamming, financial fraud, and other crimes. According to the same Imperva research, bad bots constitute one-third of all Internet traffic, posing a serious threat to businesses and users.

As a result, more companies are investing in cybersecurity and developing advanced anti-bot systems. According to Statista, companies allocate almost 13% of their budget to cybersecurity.

However, are all 'bad bots' genuinely harmful? The media often stigmatizes a controversial category of bots without fully understanding their potential and actual benefits: scraping bots. While criminals may exploit them for illegal activities like gathering confidential information or stealing proprietary content, they provide numerous advantages for businesses and industries. Ethical web scraping fosters healthy competition, automates routine tasks, and aids in developing new technologies.

What is Ethical Web Scraping?

Ethical web scraping involves collecting data from websites while adhering to legal requirements and respecting the resources of site owners. The fundamental principles of ethical web scraping are:

  1. Compliance with laws and regulations: It is crucial to comply with all local and international laws that regulate data collection.

  2. Respect for website resources: Avoid overloading website servers with excessive requests.

  3. Respect for personal data: Do not collect Personally Identifiable Information (PII) such as full names, faces, home addresses, emails, ID numbers, passport numbers, vehicle plate numbers, driver's licenses, fingerprints or handwriting, credit card numbers, and other data that may identify a real person.

  4. Avoid confidential data: Do not collect data protected by passwords and logins.

Scrapers Contribute to Machine Learning and AI Development 

One key aspect of ethical web scraping is its contribution to developing machine learning technologies. Large volumes of data collected through web scraping serve as the foundation for training and improving machine learning models. This process involves gathering, processing, and analyzing data, which play a crucial role in enhancing the accuracy and reliability of algorithms.

For example, OpenAI developed GPTBot to gather data for ChatGPT. The bot collects textual data from books, articles, websites, forums, and other sources. It is configured not to collect personal data or other protected information. Moreover, users can disable or restrict access to specific pages by including directives in robots.txt.

The specific volume of data used to train models like GPT-3.5 amounts to hundreds of billions of words. OpenAI does not disclose exact figures and sources for confidentiality and scalability reasons. According to an article published on BBC Science Focus, the data volume for GPT-3 is approximately 570 gigabytes of textual information, equivalent to hundreds of thousands of books and other texts.

ChatGPT-3 training dataset sources

ChatGPT-3 training dataset sources (Source)

We have access to technologies such as ChatGPT, Claude, Midjourney, and other AI solutions that have revolutionized traditional business practices thanks to scrapers. These AI tools help us with customer support, content creation, forecasting and decision-making, automation of routine tasks, product quality enhancement, and many other tasks. 

Scrappers Create a Healthy Business Environment 

Besides contributing to the development of AI-based technologies, scrapers also foster healthy competition. Today's market is saturated with various products, services, and brands, creating a challenging environment for small and medium-sized businesses. To remain competitive, entrepreneurs must clearly understand their competitors, what and how they sell, who their audience is, where to find clients, and much more.

By ignoring these insights, new products and companies risk getting lost among the myriad alternative offerings and never finding their audience. Consider mobile applications: There are over 9 million apps in Google, Apple, and other stores, with 257 million downloads in 2023. Without a competitive analysis, new products may remain unknown to potential users or buyers. 

The question is how to get all the necessary data in time and without extra expenditures. Manual data gathering can take months, and buying ready-made databases is costly. Moreover, their quality may be questionable. Ethical web scraping may solve these problems as it can gather vast amounts of data with the needed frequency. Scraper bots allow you to collect information from competitors' websites, social media, online directories, forums, and other resources. 

Here are some examples of valuable assets and data you can scrape to gain a competitive advantage:

  • Pricing pages. A survey reveals that as much as 83% of consumers always check for prices across various websites before making a purchase decision. If you're almost in a monopoly position like Apple, you can set any price you think is valid.

    If not, you have to adapt to the market. Moreover, price scraping helps you make better decisions regarding your overall business strategies. It lets you determine the perfect product bundles and promotions to boost sales, plan inventory levels to avoid stockouts or overstocking, explore new markets, and expand your product lines.

  • Product data. Scraping competitors' product pages provides information about their products, characteristics, and availability. This data helps you assess your products' competitive position, define potential product gaps in your product lineup, and introduce new products and services to meet consumers' demands. 

  • Social media. Your competitors' social media profiles offer reliable information about their actions and consumers' attitudes towards them. Bots can track mentions, reviews, and engagement rates, giving a better view of how your target audience perceives your competitors. This information helps you optimize your marketing plans, manage and increase customer satisfaction, and develop your brand image.

  • Reviews. Scraping reviews and brand mentions may help create better products and experiences, improve customer satisfaction, and even improve marketing strategies. Moreover, real-time sentiment monitoring allows companies to address and tackle negative feedback before it gets out of hand. 

  • Contact details. Platforms like LinkedIn offer a wealth of information on potential leads, including job titles, company details, contact information, and skills. 75% of salespeople use Facebook, Instagram, and Linkedin as the primary source for lead generation. Online directories like Crunchbase, Yellow Pages, Craigslist, Google Maps, and public company databases also offer valuable contact details for relevant decision-makers. All in all, you can scrape "Contact Us" pages to access high-quality leads. 

As you can see, there are plenty of ways to use ethical scraping to obtain valuable data to promote, create, and improve your products and services. However, besides ethics, scraping has one more challenge: anti-bot systems. 

Rising Demand for Anti-detect Tools 

The popularity of web scraping for business created a demand for anti-detection tools. Websites use anti-bot software against DDoS attacks, spam bots, frauds, and scrapers. While these security systems are great for stopping bad bots, they hinder ethical scraping. 

These systems employ various techniques to detect and block bots:

  1. IP and Behavior Analysis: Anti-detection tools check visitor IP addresses, network data, and browsing behaviors. They check if an IP address belongs to spam databases or blocklists or whether the visitor uses Tor browser. Detection triggers may lead to challenges like CAPTCHAs or outright access denials. 

  2. Digital Fingerprinting: Security systems gather and analyze detailed parameters of users' browsers and devices. These include user agents, installed browser extensions, language settings, system fonts, hardware configurations, screen resolutions, RAM sizes, and more. These unique digital fingerprints help identify and track users.

To bypass these systems, you must secure your scraper bot on every level. You can do this by creating your own custom solution, using no-coding web scraping tools, high-quality proxies, anti-detect browsers, or applying other solutions. Let's look at three main tools for ethical scraping: 

  • High-quality proxies are a must-have tool to protect a scraping bot at the connection level. You can perform basic tasks with a single personal IP address, but you will not gather much this way. For larger tasks involving making tens of thousands of requests regularly you will need solid residential or mobile proxies that aren't on blocklists. These proxies will ensure your bot can work without interruptions and effectively collect the data you need.

  • Advanced anti-detect browsers like Octo Browser simplify the management and creation of unlimited profiles with unique digital fingerprints. The browser spoofs your device's parameters and sends an altered fingerprint  to the websites you visit. For instance, you can operate 100 browser profiles from a single device, each perceived by detection systems as a distinct user. Octo Browser effectively passes anti-bot checkers such as Pixelscan, BrowserLeaks, and CreepJS by using fingerprints of real devices.

<div class="paragraphs"><p><em>Digital fingerprint configuration in Octo Browser&nbsp;</em></p></div>

Digital fingerprint configuration in Octo Browser 

  • Users risk getting banned when performing actions that differ from the overall online norm. It's crucial to mimic natural user behavior: action delays, cursor movements, rhythmic keystrokes, random pauses, and other behavioral patterns. Behavior mimicking often involves authentication, clicking "Read More" buttons, following links, filling out forms, scrolling through feeds, and similar actions. You can use open-source browser automation tools like Selenium, MechanicalSoup, and Nightmare.js to emulate these user behaviors.

Bots can be harmful if misused, but they bring significant advantages to businesses when used ethically. They automate tasks, boost efficiency, improve customer service, and provide valuable data for making smart decisions. Instead of just seeing their downsides, it's essential to understand that using bots ethically can significantly improve how businesses work. We should appreciate and use their potential responsibly without unfairly judging or underestimating them.

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