[FIELD NOTES] MN Bot Makers Meetup | Chatbots Post-Cambridge Analytica


The MN Bot Makers Meetup gathered on a sunny April evening for discussion around chatbots, data privacy and the challenges facing the growing bot industry. Developer and computational biologist Eli Krumholz led a talk detailing the recent Cambridge Analytica scandal and how it impacts developers interested in the bot space.

Krumholz began his presentation with a clip from a 60 Minutes interview of Aleksandr Kogan, the developer of a personality quiz app. The app in question shared the personal information of 30 million Facebook users with the now infamous data firm Cambridge Analytica, leading Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to testify before Congress on the topic of data privacy.

Krumholz detailed the differences between Facebook’s Open Graph model, a collection of all Facebook users and their connections to one another. In these early days, developers could create applications that gathered information from friends of the app users. There were layers of information that were deemed “public” and it was relatively easy to scrape that information.

After Facebook’s IPO in 2012, the business model changed to reliance on targeted ads for individual users. Krumholz used the example of creating an ad for Bernie Sanders supporters who are early tech adopters that also love cats. This approach has been reined in in recent years, resulting in very specific data usage requests from developers–and this rarely includes data from friends.

The presentation closed with an explanation of the chatbot approval process, including the strict Terms of Service required to enable a bot to initiate conversation with a user more than 24 hours after an initial message with the program. The discussion that followed touched on the capabilities of current bots–detecting hate speech in online interactions, political bias, gender of a particular user and creating a digital “signature” based on a person’s typing pattern.

The MN Bot Makers Meetup takes place on the fourth Tuesday of every month at Silicon Prairie Portal & Exchange in Saint Paul.