What Information is Safe to Share With a Chatbot?

Remember how funny it was to talk to a chatbot on AIM back in the early 2000s? It was like free entertainment. Well, that was a simpler time. Today, chatbots are everywhere. They’re used for customer service on business websites and any time you use Google voice assistant or talk to Siri.

It’s gotten to the point where many people would rather talk to a bot than a human. Ubisend’s 2017 Chatbot Report found that 69 percent of people prefer a chatbot because they deliver instant answers.

Stranger danger?

When your parents told you not to talk to strangers way back when, they meant they wanted you to be careful about sharing your personal information. Talking to a chatbot is no different. You should act just like you would with any other stranger and be careful about what you say.

Illustration of woman holding smartphone talking to chatbot. pbs rewire
Don’t hand out your address to anyone, especially not to a strange conversational computer that can’t control the data it gathers.

It’s not human, but it can remember everything you talk about and keep that information stored for a long time.

This isn’t to say that chatbots are bad, but they’re often used to collect information. Businesses use the information to track customer behavior and make decisions about finances and sales. Woebot, a therapy bot, stores your progress to figure out what to help you with next.

Chatbots have endless uses and we shouldn’t be afraid of using them. However, we do need to be cautious about what we tell these little artificial intelligence bots. Here’s what you shouldn’t share with them.

1. Full names

Let’s start out by saying that you shouldn’t give out your full name. And don’t give out those of parents, siblings, friends, enemies — basically, anyone.

It’s difficult to understand why we shouldn’t when our names are plastered all over social media. But the truth of the matter is that we have a little more control over it on social media sites. We have the option of making our account private and discoverable to only the people we choose, and social media sites have legal obligations and contracts we can refer to that protect us.

Chatbots, on the other hand, don’t always have the same legal obligations. Once you give one your name, it can do whatever it wants with it.

Some chatbots are created by credible sites, but not all are, and there’s really no way of knowing who’s behind each one. It’s better to play it safe and keep your name to yourself.

2. Email addresses

There are lots of hackers out there just waiting to get into our personal email accounts. You may not think it’s a big deal if someone hacks your email, but it could lead to massive problems down the road.

Your email is a form of online identification for creating and logging into any accounts, and it contains a lot of information about you. If you’ve ordered anything online, created a social media account or signed up for a streaming service with your email address, all of those things could be affected by a hacker.

Once they’ve found their way into your email, they can easily use more of your information to gain access to your other accounts attached to that email. They could make more online purchases, rack up charges on streaming accounts, or even wreak havoc on your social media by posting things in your place.

3. Physical addresses

This sounds like a no-brainer, but it’s true. Don’t hand out your address to anyone, especially not to a strange conversational computer that can’t control the data it gathers.

Nobody wants to receive spammy letters in their mailbox, mysterious packages or, scarier, unwanted visitors. So protect yourself and don’t tell the chatbot stranger where you live.

4. Credit card information

Online shopping is rapidly becoming the preferred way for us to get our stuff, from mattresses to cotton swabs. Sites you find trustworthy may have chatbots trying to assist you, which is just fine. But, chatbots aren’t always secured and it’s not safe to give such sensitive information.

Only enter your credit card or banking information on a secured web page that you completely trust. Since not all chatbots are secure, the information they receive is vulnerable to being hacked, which would give hackers tons of information to use as they please.

You don’t want anyone draining your bank account, so keep your cards to yourself.

5. Vacation plans

Many travel sites have chatbots to help you out. While their intentions are good, it’s not always safe to tell a chatbot when you are planning on taking a vacation. As you know by now, not all chatbots are secure and it’s not always easy to tell which ones are.

If you tell one when you’re planning on being out of town and that information falls into the wrong hands, it could lead to a break-in at your house or other safety issues. Even if it doesn’t go that far, you don’t want other people to know where and when you’ll be certain places.

Instead of giving vacation details to a chatbot, use the email contact on the site to communicate with someone. Email is usually more protected and private, making it safer to use when making travel plans.

So, what can I say to a chatbot?

Bots are there to help you and, for them to do so, they need information from you. Lucky for us, bots usually ask us questions.

If a customer service chatbot wants to know what you’re looking for on the site, go ahead and let it know. When it wants to find the right size of shoe for you, you can say what size you wear.

It’s alright to communicate information that isn’t personally identifiable. But information that is unique to you and could be used to pick you out in a crowd should be kept private. By being cautious, you can keep yourself safer online.

Morgen Henderson

Morgen lives in the Silicon Slopes of Salt Lake City. She loves to write and learn about technology and artificial intelligence. In her spare time, you can find her baking or traveling the globe.