Spotlight: E-Commerce’s Bot and Mouse Game

This week’s podcast is sponsored by DataDome. In it, we speak with DataDome’s Benjamin Fabre about how bot activity has greatly increased as a result of the COVID-19 Pandemic, and how inauthentic activity driven by bots is driving up operating costs for e-commerce companies of all shapes and sizes. We also talk about how bot prevention is complicated by the shift from web pages to mobile applications and APIs.

As always,  you can check our full conversation in our latest Security Ledger podcast at Blubrry. You can also listen to it on iTunes and Spotify. Or, check us out on Google PodcastsStitcherRadio Public and more. Also: if you enjoy this podcast, consider signing up to receive it in your email. Just point your web browser to to get notified whenever a new podcast is posted. 

Everyone, no matter their age or origin, can tell you what a “robot” is. A simple Google search will tell you that it’s a machine that resembles a human being, which also performs human-like functions and movements automatically. The word itself is actually derivative of the Czech word “robota,” meaning forced labor. It’s no wonder then that “bot,” which is an automated computer program that pretends to be human, is short for “robot.”

Benjamin Fabre is the co-founder and President at DataDome.
Benjamin Fabre is the President and co-founder at DataDome

Turing Tests To Chatbots

Robot programs, have been a staple of modern computing going back to British computer scientist Alan Turing’s famous Imitation Game – the “Turing Test” – which was designed to judge a machine’s ability to exhibit – or mimic – intelligent behavior well enough to fool a human observer. 

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But in recent decades, as online commerce and activity have grown to account for a bigger and bigger share of the world’s economy, bots have taken on new prominence and importance. No longer the stuff of laboratory experiments in machine intelligence, bots these days perform a dizzying array of tasks: from indexing the contents of web pages, to assisting online shoppers to providing customer support

On the other side of the ledger, bot driven distributed denial of service attacks are a source of website outages and other disruptions online. And bots have increasingly inserted themselves into online commerce. They can drive up ad rates by flooding websites with bogus traffic. And they reap huge profits from shadowy online operators: exploiting online arbitrage by scooping up deeply discounted items at big sale events like Black Friday and Cyber Monday, only to flip them for resale at a steep markup elsewhere online. 

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A Pandemic Boosts Bots

And then came COVID 19. As it has in other contexts, the pandemic has poured rocket fuel on bot activity, first by driving home-bound shoppers to e-commerce sites. More online traffic fueled an increased bot activity online, especially on e-commerce websites. Moreover, pandemic-driven shortages in everything from toilet paper and gamin consoles has led to an increase in the use of bots. Pandemic or no, the costs of this kind of fraudulent activity are felt acutely by online retailers – who pay to support the added, inauthentic bot traffic, and see customer sentiment sour as promised deals melt away before their eyes. 

But the challenge posed by bots and other automated behavior are not going unanswered. In this episode of the podcast,  we’re joined by Benjamin Fabre, the Co-Founder and President at DataDome, an international bot detection software service. In this conversation, Benjamin and I talk about the nature of bots and the types of actors behind bad bot activity. He also explained to us how bots negatively impact e-commerce, through both the customer journey as well as the check-out process. Ben and I also talk about the evolving risks to organizations as e-commerce shifts from web pages to mobile applications and APIs.