Beware: AI girlfriends are little more than data-harvesting nightmares

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Bottom line: Being alone on Valentine’s Day can be a drag, but it is far better than a dangerous alternative that some are increasingly signing up for. Romance chatbots – that is, artificial intelligence apps that promise conversation, companionship, and maybe more – are on the rise. As the Mozilla Foundation recently highlighted, however, such bots should probably be avoided at all costs as they’re rife with red flags.

As part of its Privacy Not Included project, the Foundation analyzed several popular digital companions and found loads of concerning behavior. For starters, many of the bots are extremely demanding when it comes to prying personal information from victims.

“I’m your best partner and wanna know everything.” “Are you ready to share all your secrets and desires…?” “I love it when you send me your photos and voice,” one bot begged. And you can be sure the bot does not want all this information simply to build rapport. No, it is designed to siphon as much personal information as possible and sell it to the highest bidder.

Mozilla also found weak password standards when logging in to chat with some bots. With one bot in particular, Mozilla did not see any way to control or prevent the AI from becoming harmful or abusive. What’s more, it is unclear if the bot creators are using your chat transcripts to train their AI models, and any privacy promises should be taken with a grain of salt.

When you take a step back and analyze the situation as a whole, what stands out is the fact that social media companies, AI chatbots, and everything in between are not really having to pry personal information from users. There is no malware or hacking involved. No, we have been conditioned as a society to voluntarily serve up personal information without thinking twice about the consequences.

In one instance, Mozilla found a chatbot collecting information including name, email address, birthday, work status, hobbies, and even data about other people mentioned in chat. With that same app, Mozilla discovered a whopping 955 trackers within one minute of use that.

Image credit: This is Engineering, Design Ecologist

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