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Do we really need bots and apps to say no to strangers?
Fri, 24th Jun 2016
FYI, this story is more than a year old

When there comes a need for auto-responding bots that can take digital harassment by its thorns and turn it back on the perpetrator, it makes you wonder about the darker, murkier side of the internet and humanity as a whole.

Ghostbot is the latest auto-responding app, which claims to "handle unwanted, aggressive, or abusive texting situations". The name alludes to 'ghosting', a term for when people just disappear out of relationships or situations, like a ghost.

Ghostbot works as part of the Burner app, which keeps your real phone number 'private and secure'... well, somewhat. Let's just ignore those pesky app permissions, which include the obvious such as contacts, SMS and phone, but also accessing device accounts, full network access, taking photos with the camera, recording with the microphone, in-app purchases, modifying USB and flash storage and even preventing your device from sleeping.

Install the Ghostbot and Burner, choose the contacts you want to 'ghost' and through the bot's processing engine, it will auto-reply to those who have been ghosted. It uses natural language to reply using phrases from the simple "nope" to the more genuine-looking "sorry, I'm just completely overwhelmed with work" over and over again, until the sender finally gives up.

The automated replies can be wittily funny and apparently the bot can identify a booty call from a lewd comment. In the digital age, yes, the written word loses the subtle inflections and nuances of speech, but apps are learning to do it right pretty fast.

The media headlines are spinning Ghostbot as a bot that can get rid of those weird Tinder creeps, that dodgy person you met at a bar, the ones that don't understand that 'not interested' means exactly that, and who continue to head down into the murky depths of inappropriateness and perversion.

And I'm sure it can. It can also dump your partner for you, if you don't want to do it face-to-face. While I'd love to explore that whole idea further, maybe I'll let a bot do it for me.

Bots and apps like these make me wonder how we've come to this depressing psychological point in humanity's existence that some people have to be told by a bot that someone isn't interested in them.

Cyber bullying and abuse is a huge problem, and bots may be a great way to deflect hurtful and damaging comments, particularly in countries like New Zealand, where we have a high suicide rate. Bots are absolutely fantastic ways of tackling those problems.

On the other hand, why are we so reliant on giving out so much of our information through SMS and apps like Tinder and its other dating variants, that we get into these situations, and why are we a generation of people who just can't take no for an answer?

We won't need auto-rejection bots if we could just change our own mindsets. Just say no if you're not interested. When someone says no, accept it. Move on, because in dating it seems like technology is doing too much of the work for us.