It's hard to stay entirely anonymous online. Learning how to track an IP address doesn't take long, especially as more websites and apps collect this data. As artificial intelligence (AI)-powered chatbots surge in popularity, personal information like this may be at higher risk.
Chatbots are exciting tools, but as they become increasingly common, users should stop and question how much information they give these systems. That starts with asking what chatbots are, what data they collect, and how they use it.
What Are Chatbots?
Chatbots are automated systems that communicate with users in conversational language, simulating the experience of talking to another person. Anyone who's used the customer service chat on a brand website has likely used one, especially since chatbot usage has doubled since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
As AI has improved, chatbot conversations have become increasingly hard to distinguish from those between humans, making them more popular. The meteoric rise of ChatGPT — now the fastest-growing web app in history — highlights just how influential this technology has become.
AI-powered chatbots like ChatGPT can automate customer service, streamline research, write essays for users, pull repeated themes from text, and more. This broad functionality is fueling increasing interest from businesses and consumers alike. As a result, chatbots are now a regular part of everyday life for many users.
How Do Chatbots Use Your IP Address?
- IP addresses
- Internet usage data
- Device name, type, and operating system
- Contact details
- Social media information
It's relatively easy to find an IP address from web users and many websites do it, but why do chatbots need this information? Like other sites, chatbot pages may use this data to track user sessions or create an up-to-date picture of their user base for marketing purposes.
Tracking IP addresses helps chatbots provide more personalized services, offering users more relevant and convenient answers. For example, chatbots can use IP addresses to tell where users are and tailor their responses to talk about nearby services.
Some chatbots also find users' IP addresses to enforce specific policies. OpenAI has made ChatGPT off-limits in China, Russia, Hong Kong, Iran and parts of Africa. Gathering IP addresses and similar information lets it see if users are in these locations, telling it whether to let them use the tool.
Advantages of Tracking IP Addresses in Chatbots
Teaching a chatbot how to find and use an IP address is relatively straightforward and has some benefits. Chatbots can decrease customer abandonment when they offer fast, accurate support. Collecting information like IP addresses to personalize service helps them maintain that accuracy and convenience, providing better customer service.
This personalization saves companies money by preventing customer churn and makes things easier for consumers. A bot wouldn't be very helpful if users asked it about services they could use and it directed them to businesses hundreds of miles away. The more the bot knows about the customer, the more it can offer relevant help.
Tracking user information also helps businesses see who's using their chatbot in what ways. They can then refine their marketing strategies to capitalize on their current market or break into new niches.
Security Risks of Chatbots Using IP Addresses
Despite these advantages, tracking IP addresses with chatbots introduces privacy risks. Holding all this personal information from multiple users in one place may attract hackers. If a cybercriminal breaks into a chatbot's data logs, they could steal a considerable amount of data to sell on the dark web or use to breach other accounts.
Criminals can use IP addresses to find users' location as well as other private data. They may use IP addresses to impersonate someone online as they commit other crimes. That way, if caught, they lead law enforcement officials to innocent users.
Cybercriminals could also use stolen IP addresses to flood servers with requests and disrupt online activity through denial of service (DOS) attacks. They can also use this information to gain other personal details from organizations — like internet service providers — to steal more sensitive data.
How to Stay Safe While Using AI Chatbots
Given these risks, both users and companies developing chatbots should take steps to secure them. Here's how chatbots can use IP addresses safely.
Steps for Developers
Most of the responsibility lies with chatbot developers and owners. Companies should ask whether they really need IP data, then program the bot to only store the information it needs to work correctly. This will minimize the data it holds, making it a less valuable target for hackers.
Laws in some areas — like the California Consumer Privacy Act — CCPA require businesses to delete personal data upon users' request. Even if companies aren't under these regulations, they should offer this option to let customers keep their information private. Deleting it automatically after a certain period will also help.
Finally, businesses should store all personal data their chatbots collect in secure servers. That includes storing different information in separate environments, encrypting it, and using automated monitoring tools to prevent and minimize data breaches.
Steps for Users
Once users know how chatbots track IP addresses, they can take some steps to protect themselves. The most straightforward way to hide an IP address is to use a virtual private network (VPN). While 46% of VPN users use them to access streaming services, they can also be a helpful privacy tool because they conceal IP addresses.
Using a VPN when talking to a chatbot will minimize the real-world information it collects. Users should ask companies to delete their data if the option is available. Regularly deleting cookies on your browser will also be beneficial.
AI chatbots are impressive and helpful tools, but they come with some risks, thanks to the information they collect. Learning how they find and use IP addresses is the first step to using them safely. When people know what data these bots use and how to address that, they can make the most of this technology while staying safe.
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