We were warned that robots would take our jobs. Now that the future is here, the reality is more mundane, but no less terrifying: the bots are here to take our tokens. Automated bots are swamping ICO groups on Telegram and helping themselves to a share of the tokens being discussed, while other bots are engaging in even more egregious behavior.
A Swarm of Bots Is Taking Over Crypto Telegram
It’s important for ICOs to have a respectable Telegram following. It’s a ready reckoner that enables prospective investors to gauge, at a glance, the level of interest in the project. Twitter followers can easily be bought, but Telegram numbers, so the consensus goes, are harder to fake. Harder, but by no means impossible, and because Telegram is more of a closed network than Twitter, it’s harder to scrutinize the quality and “humanity” of a group’s followers. And with news breaking that up to 70 million Telegram account usernames and phone numbers have been leaked and are for sale, bot-based scams are likely to proliferate.
It’s common for ICO Telegram groups to be inundated with followers after launching an airdrop because this is a requisite to claim the free tokens. After kickstarting its airdrop last week, for example, Kleros, a blockchain dispute resolution layer, saw its Telegram followers mushroom from 500 to over 6,000 in 48 hours. The project’s community manager, Stuart James, told news.Bitcoin.com that Kleros welcomes the influx but is keen to ensure that airdropped tokens are distributed to “genuine” community members only, explaining:
After a while you get a feel for the sort of behaviors that have the hallmarks of bot activity. Shortly after joining a Telegram group, they’ll post similar replies to the pinned post, and engage in other programmatic responses. Evidence suggests that the majority of our new Telegram followers are human, but there’s a subset that is clearly bot-based, and it’s the same in the other ICO Telegram groups I’ve spoken to.
Not All Bots Are Bad
There is nothing intrinsically good or bad about bots: it’s how they’re purposed by their operators that defines them. ICO groups use their own bots, for example, to perform automated checks of whitelist signups and to issue generic greetings and crowdsale information to new arrivals. Biondi, a Telegram bot dev with the handle @siipstream, specializes in programming bots for the benefit of crypto groups, but is well aware of the more nefarious ways in which they can be purposed. He explains:
I would speculate that [airdrop bot operators] have a pool of phone numbers (probably thousands) where they register an account, PM the airdrop bot and join the chat. But those are non-malicious (maybe just a waste of server resources). The more worrying ones will be scammers who impersonate admins and PM users for ETH, promising them tokens, often with a bonus. Those work by getting the chat participant list and privately messaging all of them. A human then handles the response and interaction where ETH is often requested.
Biondi proposes a number of solutions to the problem, including the suggestion that Telegram reveals the unique user ID assigned to each account, making it easier for participants to differentiate between real and fake admins.
“It’s evident scammers are becoming more sophisticated in their efforts,” adds Kleros’ Stuart James. “It’s safe to say stopping all attacks is nearly impossible but any measures which can mitigate the burden on genuine community members is welcomed.”
As it stands, ICOs have something of a love-hate relationship with bots. An influx of new followers – real or otherwise – brings social proof, which in turn entices genuine investors. But too much bot activity means there’s a risk of users being scammed or of airdropped tokens winding up in the hands of a small group, who can then dump them onto exchanges at the earliest opportunity.
What do you think can be down to clamp down on Telegram bots? Let us know in the comments section below.
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