Honesty matters: Twitch files lawsuit against bots faking viewership

Bots fake viewership and followers on sites like Twitch, and can ultimately hold back broadcasters from success.

Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP/File
Although many bots on the internet work for good, some do harm to business.

Twitch, which calls itself the world’s leading social video platform and community for gamers,” announced on Friday that it will add another layer to its series of defenses against internet bots by taking legal action against seven of the most active sellers of view-bot services.

Twitch, the Amazon.com subsidiary that lets gamers create videos of their sessions and share them online, offers revenue-sharing partnerships to those with large audiences. But view-bot services, alleges a complaint filed by Twitch Friday in California federal court, artificially inflate audiences, disrupting the partnerships damaging the system's credibility.

Bots may inflate the seeming popularity of a video, for instance, by viewing, liking, and favoriting it. It may appear as if multiple viewers have visited a site when the truth is that the activity has been controlled by bots.

In a letter addressed to Twitch customers, Matthew DiPietro, Twitch's Senior Vice President of Marketing, wrote that despite this decision, the best way to stop the activities of viewbots is to stop buying their services. The website also posted an FAQ sheet about how to handle bots.

The site is using a combination of grassroots and top-down initiatives to protect its channels from the bots.

In addition to view-bots, Twitch is also speaking out against follow-bots. View-bots artificially inflate a live view count while follow-bots artificially inflate a channel’s number of followers.

Twitch describes the activity of these bots as working “like steroids for a channel – with all the negative side effects included.”

This is not the first time a company has take legal action against internet bots. In 2002, some websites filed lawsuits against Bargain.com, which compiles bargains on the internet by trespassing. Google has also spoken out against the use of view-bots on YouTube.

Search engines like Google also have bots that scour the web for pages and information, but Google’s bots do not engage in illicit activities; they avoid disrespecting robot-exclusion protocols. According to The Wall Street Journal, Bargain.com’s practice of linking consumers directly to a piece of merchandise, instead of to a retailer's home page or department page, keeps customers from seeing ads and the business’s brand.

On the other hand, proponents of bots argue that regulations would inhibit the ability for everyone and anyone to freely roam the internet.

Lawmakers may disagree. The Better Online Ticket Sales Act (or the BOTS Act) will soon be debated by a House committee. These bots in question do not add viewers or trespass, but instead cut in line to buy tickets for scalpers. They can purchase hundreds, even thousands, of tickets moments after they go on sale – moving much too fast for an individual ticket buyer to compete. The bill would prohibit bots from circumventing the security features of a ticket-selling website.

If the BOTS Act passes, it would be the first law enacted against bots at a federal level. About a dozen states have already passed their own anti-ticket bot laws.

Making laws is one piece of the puzzle, but implementing them is a bigger one, and with a borderless internet, say some industry experts, that may be impossible until there are international laws regulating bot activity.

This leaves websites still in the trenches of an arms warfare with bots. One strategy Ticketmaster uses is asking users to check a box that says, “I’m not a robot.” Some websites also use software that observes the way a mouse moves on the page.

But such measures are expensive. That is why, says DiPietro, along with continually updating its security measures to identify false viewers, Twitch’s moderation, support, and partnerships teams investigate and respond to user reports of view- and follow-bot activity. Right now, these in-site measures may still be Twitch’s best bet in fighting bots.

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