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Boost Juice has defended an online campaign to promote a new smoothie to young adults, following concerns it normalises predatory behaviour.

The Facebook Messenger chatbot aimed at 18-24 year olds engages the customer in conversation before trying to persuade them to play a dating game.

If you engage, you get a free voucher and the chance to win a trip to Japan.

When you opt in to talk with the company's chatbot on Facebook messenger, they introduce you to "four eligible pieces of fruit" and play the matchmaker.

How steamy the chat gets depends on which fruit you've matched with. If you stop replying at any point, so does the bot. But choosing the option to say 'I'm uncomfortable' doesn't always stop the bot from making advances. It just sends more cheesy pick-up lines.

There's also concerns the bots can be accessed by minors.

The bots are a parody built to replicate a real life online dating experience, and Banana is "your average Tinder boy," according to Boost Juice.

But a teen education expert says the behaviour is "predatory" and "grooming".

What the bot says

One of the first questions Boost Juice Banana asks is:

"Hey.... can I show you something?"

You click 'Okay'.. and it sends you a photo of your own profile picture, describing it as "the kind of lover I'm looking for."

Then Banana gives you the options: "Love in Japan? Or Netflix and chill?"

Here's a full interaction sent in by a Hack listener.

Chatbot conversation
Chatbot
Chatbot conversation
Chatbot conversation
10.jpg

This is grooming behaviour: teen education expert

Enlighten Education's Dannielle Miller said the bot took on a "predatory and creepy feel" and it's interaction was "grooming behaviour"

"You're chatting to someone online that you don't know and they keep pushing your boundaries and assuming this level of intimacy with you that they don't yet have," she said.

"That's exactly what it felt like."

"I think it's really problematic that that kind of behaviour was normalised."

She also said making light of bad online behavior sends the wrong message.

"If you are a predatory guy online, you can just say but i'm just joking it's meant to be funny, why can't you take a joke?"

"And isn't that what always happens when women are made to feel uncomfortable in any situation and we say 'this makes me feel uncomfortable'."

'Please Stop. I'm uncomfortable'

The bots give you options to choose from like 'Please stop' or 'I like your style.'

The Pineapple even gives you an option to say 'I'm uncomfortable.' But that doesn't always stop it from continuing to make advances.

Asking the pineapple to stop

Asking the pineapple to stop.

Macquarie University media professor Catharine Lumby, who also runs workshops on respectful relationships, says boundaries are important, regardless of whether it is a bot or a person.

"If you say I'm uncomfortable or please stop - that's the end of the conversation."

"After that it's stalking."

Boost Juice: 'It's based on your responses'

Boost Juice says the bots' responses are based on how risque you've proven to be in the initial matchmaking phase.

"It's all based on your engagement. [And] if you don't message back it stops automatically," Boost's Head of Digital Christian McGilloway told Hack.

But you can access the bots without going through the 'dating game' vetting system, leaving room for minors to access sexually suggestive and automated conversations.

"That's not our ideal scenario and in all our posts we direct them to the match maker and we've been clear on how you activate the conversation,' Boost's Head of Marketing Jodi Murray-Freedman told Hack.

"The technology is such a new area there is always going to be glitches.

"But we've done everything on our end to make sure it's as safe as it can be [and] to make sure we're only talking to people 18 years old and over."

'We've always been the cheeky, irreverent brand'

Boost says the bots are just parodying your average Tinder experience.

"Our core demographic - 18-24 year olds - are in that online dating space, it seemed the obvious fit for us to bring our fruit to life in that environment and have a bit of fun," Jodi Murray-Freedman said.

She said with 90,000 unique users on the bots, the marketing campaign has been a hit. She said there have only been a handful of complaints.

But she agreed that it is a concern the bots keep pushing if people click 'stop' or 'I'm uncomfortable'.

Jodi-Murray Freedman says action is taken straight away if someone complains.

"We've certainly had customer feedback and as soon as we've received it we've gone back a reviewed the text and made adjustments where we've had to, " she said.

"We knew we would be pushing the boundaries. We're always going to push the boundaries that's the nature of our brand."

"It's a learning curve to understand how far we can take it and where we need to pull it back."

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