Chatbots Revolution: Are Your Conversational Apps Safe?

The new generation of conversational assistants or chatbots for mobiles come the closest ever to making your Android or iOS device seem like a human companion.

Can you imagine yourself in tears, asking your mobile device why it let you down and abused the trust you placed in it? The new generation of conversational assistants or chatbots for mobiles come the closest ever to making your Android or iOS device seem like a human companion. So, you could be forgiven for trying to appeal to a machine’s sense of ethics, if it looks like a chatbot was responsible for your mobile bank account being emptied or your personal data stolen.

Chatbots are the hot market of the moment for players in the mobile arena. Chatbot apps redefine the user interface, understanding and conversing with users by using natural language processing to then drive the other apps and the mobile device operating system. Instead of having to tap into each app individually (one for your banking, one for your agenda, one for your fitness, and so on), you just tell your chatbot what you want, and it does it all for you.

However, don’t think this is just a consumer phenomenon. While chatbots have a cool, gadget side to them that appeals to the public at large, they are also making inroads into enterprises. Technology companies, retailers, and even the US Army have been implementing chatbots to help employees with questions, increase productivity, and make recruiting more efficient.

If the chatbot you use is a trustworthy soul (see how easy it is to start thinking of them as human?), then perhaps the positive aspects of saving time and effort will be all that matter to you. The power of chatbots to manage multiple mobile applications at the same time is seductive, as is the artificial intelligence that allows them to interpret what you want to know, and even make constructive suggestions back to you. Chatbots also learn fast, so that you don’t have to: no more wrestling with menus, separate apps, or new user interfaces. But the question is – can you trust them?

The dark side of the chatbot phenomenon could be breaches of confidentiality and privacy. Some observers point to companies like Facebook and Microsoft that are using chatbots to expand their activities in the mobile market. They are opening their communications platforms (Facebook Messenger, for example) to third party chatbot developers.

That means that rogue chatbots could act as Trojan horses for their developers to siphon off your personal data or to direct your bot conversations and app interactions in ways you never expected. Even “well-meaning”, but “over-enthusiastic” apps could start handing out totally unsuitable permissions to other apps on your behalf.

On the other hand, a chatbot on a mobile device is still an app in itself, and can therefore be tested for security vulnerabilities and flaws using fast, efficient testing like AppInterrogator and RECON. And as chatbots don’t have feelings (whatever else you might think), you can grill them and the other mobile apps they control as regularly and frequently as you want to make sure that your chatbot relationship stays healthy and safe.