February 1997

Root Page of Article: (How) Can Software Agents Become Good Net Citizens?, by Sabine Helmers, Ute Hoffmann, and Jillian Stamos-Kaschke

Cancel Bots

The best solution for Usenet may be to discourage the use of cancelbots altogether. Instead, agent-based "social filtering" may be a better alternative in dealing with spam and other unwelcome messages. Under the NoCeM model, for example, any person on the Net who sees something they think shouldn't have been posted can issue a notice. When this cryptographically authenticated NoCeM notice is accepted by a user's newsreader, it will perform a pre-specified action which will most likely prevent the user from seeing the message. However, it can also be configured to alert the user's attention. Within this model, any user willing to learn PGP can issue NoCeM notices. If people agree with the issuer's criteria and also feel that this person is a good judge of that standard then they will accept the notices. Social filtering can address the information and protection needs of individual users by drawing on the likes and dislikes of groups with shared interests.

For agent-based social filtering to work, trust is a major prerequisite. With growing commercial incentive to use bots, abusive robots may become a major issue. A badly programmed autonomous agent can "unknowingly" delete or withhold important information. Such aberrant behavior can be remedied by improved programming. However, another type of aberrant behavior can be programmed: Software agents can do their official job badly by unofficially working for other clients. People who could be potentially interested in double agents are for example market researchers, opinion pollsters, firms, religious communities, governments and their secret services or tax investigation offices.

From the immense abundance the WWW has to offer, data-base search engines can pick out or ignore certain information without the user noticing at once. At some point one could become suspicious, for example if the same firms are recommended over and over again or suddenly no WWW links are given to precarious subjects. Or imagine a software bundle, acquired in all good faith, which is supposed to take on the annoying job of connecting a computer to a network and which at the same time gives out information pertaining to the user's hard disk to third persons on the Internet. --

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