Some bots are helpful, like Facebook's NBA bot, which finds your favorite footage so you don't have to. Other bots mean well even if they fail spectacularly, like Microsoft's Tay. And then there are the cheating bots, which artificially boost follower counts and advertising clicks.
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The popular game-streaming platform Twitch today declared war on the last kind by suing seven of the most active sellers of viewbot services in federal court. The complaint alleges that the companies engage in cybersquatting, trademark infringement, and computer fraud, among other charges.
"We at Twitch are well aware that view-bots, follow-bots, and chat-impersonation bots are a persistent frustration," the company's marketing VP Matthew DiPietro wrote in a blog post. "Exploited by a small minority, these services have created a very real problem that has damaging effects across our entire community."
The defendants named in the lawsuit peddle their bot services through websites with rather obvious names, like "TwitchViewerBot.com" and "StreamViewers.com." One defendant, Erik Bouchouev, operates five separate websites, offering bot packages that range from $9.99 per month for 75 viewers to $38.99 per month for 475 viewers, according to the complaint.
"These deceptive actions inflate viewer statistics for some channels while harming legitimate broadcaster channels by decreasing their discoverability," Twitch argued in the complaint. "That, in turn, hurts the quality of the experience community members have come to expect from Twitch."
In addition to asking the court to shut the bot services down, Twitch is also seeking unspecified restitution and damages.
The company says the court case is the latest part of its ongoing crusade to eradicate artificial bots from its network. It also uses "technological solutions" to detect false viewers and remove them, and encourages users to report suspected bots to its moderators and customer support reps.