Should You Be Blocking AI Bots?

Jun 11, 2024 by
Should You Be Blocking AI Bots?

AI is officially mainstream. In fact, it’s slowly reshaping the world in its own image, at least if the scaremongers were to be believed. It’s not hyperbole, however, to suggest that large language models like OpenAI’s GPT and Google’s Bard have ushered in a significant debate in digital marketing. In such a climate, should businesses be blocking AI bots from accessing their content? Or should they be actively embracing them?

This decision requires weighing the benefits of protecting intellectual property and managing server loads against the potential drawbacks of limited visibility and hindered AI development. As ever, there’s a middle ground to be found if you’re willing to put in the legwork.

The Case for Blocking AI Bots

Many publishers, particularly those working in news and ecommerce, have chosen to block AI bots to protect their content and the personal data of their users. They typically use robots.txt files or specific meta tags to prevent AI from scraping and potentially misusing their intellectual creations.

For example, major news outlets actively block AI bots to safeguard journalistic integrity and prevent the unauthorised use of their content for personal or commercial use​. Ecommerce sites, similarly, often restrict AI access to protect product descriptions and maintain a competitive advantage. They also block them as a precaution to protect their users, many of whom might be understandably wary of the technology and its implications.

Blocking AI bots can offer several advantages:

Intellectual Property Protection: Prevents the unauthorised replication of content, safeguarding your creative investments​.

Server Load Optimisation: Reduces the strain on web servers, which could be bogged down by frequent bot crawling​.

Control Over Content: Ensures that content is used in the manner and context intended by the owner​.

The Case Against Blocking AI Bots

Of course, it’s not all bad news. AI bots can actually prove quite beneficial when it comes to boosting online visibility and interaction. For example, photographer Dylan Howell recently shared on his personal blog how AI tools like ChatGPT helped a couple find his services for their wedding. This wouldn’t have been possible had he blocked AI bots from his website​​. This proves that AI can play a crucial role in connecting potential clients with businesses.

The drawbacks of blocking AI bots include:

Impaired Visibility: Search engines and AI models that help users discover content might not be able to access blocked sites, which could diminish a site’s online presence.

Limited AI Development: Restricting AI from accessing diverse data sources may hinder the improvement and functionality of future AI technologies​.

Reduced Opportunities for Innovation: Blocking might prevent potential collaborations with AI developers and researchers, which could lead to innovations that benefit all parties involved​.

The Right Decision

As ever when there are pros and cons to consider, the decision will very much come down to individual circumstances and preferences. For businesses that rely heavily on unique content or have significant concerns about intellectual property, blocking might be prudent. However, for those looking to maximise reach and engagement, keeping channels open for AI interactions could be beneficial.

Businesses that are considering this approach, however, should regularly review and update their access policies to align with evolving AI capabilities and their strategic goals. Alternative solutions like rate limiting or setting up specific user-agent restrictions might offer a balanced approach, allowing beneficial bots while blocking harmful ones​.

Ultimately, whether to block AI bots or not is a strategic decision that should be informed by a clear understanding of the business’s content value, the competitive landscape, and the potential benefits of AI-driven visibility. As AI continues to evolve, staying informed and adaptable will be the key to using AI as a helpful tool without letting it in the backdoor to mess with your valuable assets.