Bot or not, that is the question. For one Fredericton start-up company, it says it has the answer.
Big online companies such as Google and YouTube thrive in part because of the advertising. Advertisers pay every time someone views a page with their ad and they pay more if someone clicks on the ad.
But what if those pages are viewed or clicked by bots, rather than humans? For advertisers, this is money down the drain.
That's where Ara Labs comes in. The company was founded by Ehsan Mokhtari, Hadi Shiravi and their former computer science professor at the University of New Brunswick, Ali Ghorbani.
Ara Labs says its technology can determine whether the traffic is coming from humans or bots. Bots are computers that have been hacked, controlled and linked with other computers to form networks known as bots (or botnets).
"They are under the control of a bot master, which initiates commands to these machines and says, 'Ok, go visit this web page.' Or, 'Go click on that link.' And that's how the traffic generation happens," said Shiravi.
Besides the wasted money spent on advertising, another problem bots create is that it might lead advertisers to skew their ad campaigns based on false traffic, says Mokhtari.
Ara Labs's Technology can identify compromised machines, as well as websites that are purchasing traffic. Websites can actually purchase traffic to boost their numbers to make them look good or to increase revenue for temporary sites. In one case, the Ara Labs team tracked a publisher with 600 different sites which all used the same content.
The problem doesn't just apply to for-profit companies, non-profit organizations pay when their ads are seen too.
Ara Labs wants to sell its intelligence about illegal bots. So far, the start-up has raised around $1 million from investors.