The internet is mostly bots(?)

When I am king, you will be first against the wall…

In an article for The Atlantic Adrienne LaFrance observes that a report by the security firm Imperva suggests that 51.8% of traffic online is bot traffic (by which they mean 51.8% of a sample of traffic [“16.7 billion bot and human visits collected from August 9, 2016 to November 6, 2016”] sent through their global content delivery network “Incapusla”):

Overall, bots–good and bad–are responsible for 52 percent of web traffic, according to a new report by the security firm Imperva, which issues an annual assessment of bot activity online. The 52-percent stat is significant because it represents a tip of the scales since last year’s report, which found human traffic had overtaken bot traffic for the first time since at least 2012, when Imperva began tracking bot activity online. Now, the latest survey, which is based on an analysis of nearly 17 billion website visits from across 100,000 domains, shows bots are back on top. Not only that, but harmful bots have the edge over helper bots, which were responsible for 29 percent and 23 percent of all web traffic, respectively.

LaFrance goes on to cite the marketing director of Imperva (who wants to sell you ‘security’ – he’s in the business of selling data centre services) to observe that:

“The most alarming statistic in this report is also the most persistent trend it observes,” writes Igal Zeifman, Imperva’s marketing director, in a blog post about the research. “For the past five years, every third website visitor was an attack bot.”

How do we judge this report? I find it difficult to know how representative this company’s representation of their data, although they are the purveyor of a ‘global content delivery network’. The numbers seem believable, given how long we’ve been hearing that the majority of traffic is ‘not human’ (e.g. a 2013 article in The Atlantic making a similar point and a 2012 ZDNet article saying the same thing: most web traffic is ‘not human’ and mostly malicious).

The ‘not human’ thing needs to be questioned a bit – yes, it’s not literally the result of a physical action but, then, how much of the activity on the electric grid can be said to be ‘not human’ too? I’d hazard that the majority of that so-called ‘not human’ traffic is under some kind of regular oversight and monitoring – it is, more or less, the expression of deliberative (human) agency. Indeed, to reduce the ‘human’ to what our simian digits can make happen seems ridiculous to me… We need a more expansive understanding of technical (as in technics) agency. We need more nuanced ways to come to terms with the scale and complexity of the ways we, as a species, produce and perform our experiences of everyday life – of what counts as work and the things we take for granted.

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