What Is a Bot?

Bots perform automated tasks over the internet

Internet bots, or "bots," as they're commonly known, are small software applications that perform simple, repetitive, automated tasks over the internet. Many bots, including chatbots and social bots, can be helpful, while other types of bots are malicious cybercrime tools. Here's a look at bots, what they do, and how they're used.

Hand touching digital chat bot for provide access to information and data in online network, robot application and global connection, AI, Artificial intelligence, innovation and technology.
ipopba / Getty Images

What Tasks Can Bots Perform?

Bots assist customers, distribute information, and sell products. You may not even realize how often you've interacted with a bot. For example, when you order a pizza for delivery, you probably place the order with a bot. When you contact technical support about a problem with an app or service, a bot may answer your question.

When you need help choosing flowers for a friend's birthday, a bot may suggest arrangements that fit your friend's tastes. When you have a health issue, a bot may provide advice from a real doctor.

Many of the bots you'll encounter on the internet are programmed to efficiently answer frequently asked questions from a list of potential answers.

Benefits of Using a Bot

Organizations, businesses, and groups use bots for a variety of reasons. Chatbots, for example, can save a company a lot of money, replacing the number of employees needed to handle customer service calls. Bots easily handle routine customer questions, while complex problems are routed to a human customer service representative.

When bots are used on social media, they can connect with more people and increase engagement. It's even possible to automate social media posts with bots.

A bot works 24/7 without breaks, and it remembers every instruction and procedure it's been given. Bots can answer customer questions instantly and with reliable accuracy.

Common Internet Bots

Internet bots are ubiquitous on the web, hanging out prominently on websites and messaging apps. When they're malicious, they often hide behind fake personas and lurk in dark places, waiting to make an attack.

Here are some common bots you may encounter as you browse the web.

Chatbots

You'll find chatbots in instant messaging apps, private chat groups, and social media messaging services such as Facebook Messenger.

Chatbots answer questions from users. When a user asks a question, the chatbot responds with one of its programmed responses. If the bot doesn't recognize the request, or needs more information, it replies with a programmed response that prompts the visitor to rephrase their question.

The chatbot at CognitiveClass.ai that helps students select classes

Chatbots can't answer every question, but they can be programmed to troubleshoot and help solve common user problems, help customers select the right product for their needs, and provide general information about services and hours of operation.

Social Bots

Social bots take the place of a human on social networks. Often, these bots have social media accounts on Facebook, Twitter, and other sites, and aim to spread information, whether it's factual or problematic. Social bots start conversations and spread opinions, as well.

TwitterAudit that shows if an account is a social bot or not

Here's how you'll see social bots in use:

  • Companies use social bots for marketing their products and increasing their social media influence.
  • Political campaigns use social bots to spread their view to a broad audience.
  • Social bots use fake social media accounts to attract people and start conversations.

If you use a dating app such as Tinder, check up on your match and make sure you're dealing with a real person and not a scam bot.

Virtual Game Players

If you love playing online multiplayer games, chances are you've played with a bot. Many online games have bots that react to your actions in the game. You'll find virtual game bots in role-playing games, action games, card games, and strategy games.

Web Crawlers

Web crawlers are bots that search for information on the web. You won't see a web crawler as you browse the web, as these bots go unnoticed. Search engines use web crawlers to traverse the web, analyze the information they find on a website, and add this information to the search engine directory.

Commercial Bots

Commercial bots automate trading on auction websites. These bots search sites for good deals. 

Malicious Bots

Unlike the helpful bots, malicious bots initiate attacks that harm computer networks, commit click fraud, or produce large quantities of spam.

These are some of the malicious bots you'll find on the internet:

  • Botnets that cause denial-of-service attacks.
  • Spambots that collect email addresses from contact lists and guestbook pages.
  • Downloaders that use up bandwidth by downloading entire websites.
  • Scrappers that steal website content and use it without permission.