At a time when brands are eager to build brand image and maintain their reputation, it is imperative for companies to guarantee a bot-free experience to keep customers satisfied.
By Shubham Jha
In 2018, only 62% of all internet traffic was human, while all other activity was attributed to bots and with mobile apps expected to generate $189 billion in revenue by 2020, apps are also in danger. In 2019, digital ad fraud in India was projected to increase by 23%.
Contrary to ad fraud, bots don’t attack a brand’s marketing budget but the app itself. Bots can affect all verticals, although it’s gaming and ecommerce apps that are currently being hit the hardest. In-app bots can swipe limited edition products from ecommerce apps within a matter of seconds or reach impossibly high scores in gaming apps. This goes on to affect user experience and brand reputation – and the long-term ramifications include turning users off an app for good.
Without the right prevention strategy in place, it’s likely that most apps are already losing out to bot fraud. To fight back, it’s critical brands understand how in-app bot fraud works, what impact it can have on gaming and ecommerce apps, and how to win with the right bot prevention.
What is in-app bot fraud?
In-app bots are programmed to act like real users, making them especially hard to detect. They tirelessly carry out specific in-app events and perform actions at humanly-impossible rates. These fraudulent activities can result in any number of negative outcomes: bad user experience, lower retention rates, credit card fraud, spamming users or even the takeover of entire accounts.
The biggest challenge for many brands is knowing how to distinguish bots from real users. From there, they can go on to systematically remove the accounts using bots, and prevent more from entering the app. However, distinguishing bots from humans is easier said than done – and the majority of app developers don’t have the resources to handle this challenge on their own. To help, it’s worth working with a bot prevention solution that can accurately identify the difference.
How do bots affect gaming apps
According to a poll by mobile strategy agency Tappable, smartphones are now the preferred gaming device of 42% of gamers. As per the All India Gaming Federation (AIGF), India has 120 million gamers and the number has seen more than a 30% jump in the last three years. A report by Nasscom indicates that India is, among all the emerging markets, the largest in terms of downloads with over 2.8 billion game downloads in the first half of 2018. Bots are often tailor-made for a specific game, and affect it in several ways, including by:
- Negatively impacting gaming communities: Community is a huge part of many mobile games, and they are often painstakingly built up with chat features, forums and content sharing. These features are essential to increase engagement and boost retention. However, bot fraud threatens to compromise this essential component of your mobile game. If leaderboards are dominated by bots, it not only demotivates users, but the issue can also bubble over into forums – bringing the problem into the limelight and destroying trust in the app.
- Destroying games’ in-app economies: Often players, who pay for bots, are directing money away from in-game purchases. Instead of publishers profiting from the hard work they put into building an app, revenue is diverted to fraudsters.
- Damaging brands and their reputations: The impact bots have on a brand can be long-lasting and hard to overcome. After all, even the most dedicated mobile gamers will get discouraged playing against bots. And, not only will gamers uninstall a game, they may also be discouraged from installing other games associated with the same brand.
How do bots affect e-commerce apps?
With mobile accounting for 34% of all e-commerce sales in 2019, it’s up to retailers to provide a seamless – and secure – user experience for their users. The number of fraud cases in the e-commerce sector has increased by a whopping 475% between August 2016 and November 2019, according to the government data. Bot fraud can seriously compromise these values in the following ways:
- Staging log-in attacks: By using lists of stolen credentials purchased on the dark web, bots can be programmed to try any number of combinations until they gain access to users’ accounts. Once in, fraudsters behind the bots can use saved credit card details to purchase products. This leaves consumers out of pocket, and brands often have to shoulder the cost of paying their users back.
Swooping up high-demand products: Limited editions or exclusive products are often targeted by in-app bots programmed to swipe the most in-demand items well before a human could make a purchase. These items then end up on the black market at a much higher price. This understandably leaves consumers frustrated, and their anger is often directed at brands themselves.
- Skewing analytics: In-app bot fraud can cause spikes in traffic from whichever region the bot is programmed, and companies can mistakenly believe there is particular interest in certain products in that region. Basing marketing decisions on compromised data can waste time and resources, and damage a business’ bottom line.
- Leaving fake reviews: Bots can also be used to generate fake reviews for products – causing genuinely popular items to lose their place among the best reviewed products, and ultimately mislead users.
How can apps win against the bots
Because bots are designed to simulate human behavior, using machine learning to register legitimate human behavior is the best way to stay one step ahead of the fraudsters. For example, real users will scroll and tap their device in irregular patterns which are almost impossible to simulate. Users also perform in-app actions in several locations throughout the day and will not always hold the device in the same way. For accurate bot detection, machine learning can be used to compare these real behavioral patterns with a bot’s behavior. While this is a huge undertaking for a company to replicate in-house, Unbotify offers a bespoke solution that is compliant with all privacy regulations. It leverages anonymized sensor data directly from the smartphone, including the device’s accelerometer, light sensor, touch events, and battery status, to identify bots from legitimate users.
Using these data points is essential to fighting bots – and at a time when brands are eager to build brand image and maintain their reputation, guaranteeing a bot-free experience will be key to keeping customers satisfied.
The author is sales manager, India of Adjust