results can get eerie, uncanny, and downright bizarre.

The creepy side of web-crawling critters

‘Tis the season to be spooky, but don’t worry, this article doesn’t contain any actual spiders. Sorry to any arachnophile readers that got their hopes up. 

Big data is a monumental and plentiful resource to be found among the mountains of the Internet, and there’s plenty of gold in them there hills if you’ve got the prospecting know-how. But as with every valuable resource, there are pests and parasites that come out of the figurative woodwork to steal the bounty.

The internet has long been infested with bots, which supposedly make up a concerningly large chunk of total internet traffic. A lot of these programs systematically browse the World Wide Web and are appropriately called crawlers, spiders, and spiderbots. Nowadays we’re also seeing a new type of web-crawler with artificial intelligence. With all of these non-human website visitors set loose to gather data, results can get eerie, uncanny, and downright bizarre.

Data is always an important topic for credit unions, and particularly useful in marketing. But while there are good, practical uses for spidering and other data-oriented tech, there’s been more than a little less-than-benevolent activity from our future robot overlords. Here are three examples of data-gathering debacles, how real people reacted to them and some advice for how to use your own web-crawling powers for good.

Everybody loves Glorbo

Many gamers and redditors are painfully aware that some “gaming news” sites out there seem to indiscriminately pull their content from Reddit discussion threads. It’s bad enough when human writers do this, but it’s easy to tell that some sites are using web-crawling AI to feed their content beast.

The more popular the game, the more you see this kind of low-effort faux journalism. To fight back a little, some Redditors decided to announce how happy they were to see “Glorbo” added to the famous and still popular World of Warcraft. Of course, the news site they were targeting picked it up, even citing equally fake responses from the comments section. They did notice eventually and took the post down, but there’s an archived version of those Redditors’ successful misdirection.

To catch a thief…

.. sometimes you need something bigger and much scarier, like a legal department.

Independent artists on the internet have been the victims of annoyingly blatant thievery by shady websites that sell t-shirts. Thanks to web-crawling bots targeting phrases like, “I want this on a t-shirt,” more than a few artists have seen their work monetized without permission. 

It’s a truly frustrating situation to be in, if you don’t have the money to pursue legal action. With this in mind, people started to use these bots against the websites by targeting copyrighted artwork. Disney, in particular, is well-known for having a lot of money to pursue legal action for copyright infringement and employs a powerful legal department to do exactly that. 

“Alexa, why are you so creepy?”

More than a few people find virtual assistants like Amazon’s Alexa to be hair-raisingly spooky, and no, it’s not just because of her creepy laugh.

Ever since their debut, there have been stories circulating about Alexa or Siri activating spontaneously, or without anyone saying their “wake word.” This is probably because these devices are always listening for a word or phrase that triggers their recording function, after which they connect to the cloud in order to access their natural language processing functions.

It’s not hard to see why many people are concerned about letting one of these devices record their personal data. The good news for skeptics is that the majority of interactions recorded by Alexa don’t seem to be monetizable. I still wouldn’t make a habit of reading your personal information out loud, however.

Marketing data is still a huge opportunity

So yeah, people aren’t really big fans of having their online discussions monitored, their artwork stolen, or their conversations recorded. This really shouldn’t have come as a surprise to anyone, even the corporations behind these faux pas.

There’s still a lot of value in marketing data if you make an effort not to step over the line, ethically. I’d recommend asking yourself, “Does this sound like a cartoonishly villainous breach of privacy?” or better yet, “Would Disney sue me into oblivion for this?” and as long as the answer is “no” you should be fine. That second one is a great guideline that would have saved a lot of people a lot of money, by the way.

You can make good use of data when you know what to look for. Software like a CRM will help you keep track of every way your members interact with your CU and your website. Services like GA4 can become your best friend for tracking what your website visitors actually do, and Google Search Console can help you track your search performance. You can even get into the nitty gritty of Google Ads to help improve your placement in paid and organic search. All of these are ways to use web-crawling responsibly.

And like everything else in marketing, it never hurts to get some professional help. Agencies like iDiz have the expertise to give you a leg up, and another perspective might save you from being part of yet another cautionary tale of web-crawling gone wrong.

Sam Dicken

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