Amigo Anônimo (Anonymous Friend) is a Facebook Messenger chatbot operated by Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) Brazil. It was designed with Facebook in 2017 by the J. Walter Thompson (JWT) agency and developed by Chat Club. JWT conceived the chatbot as part of a campaign to address underage drinking by increasing AA brand awareness and meeting attendance among teens.
AA decided to develop a chatbot to broaden its services and create an accessible entry point for young people to learn about and seek help for alcohol abuse. Rather than replace in-person meetings, AA envisioned a more personal and private first step facilitated through a familiar online platform, and a single resource for alcoholics and their family, friends and partners. JWT chose Facebook Messenger for its high penetration among Brazilian youth and because Facebook provided an integrated channel to drive adoption through viral marketing. Facebook Creative Shop also provided $10,000 of ads and support analyzing user behavior.
When users first open a conversation with the bot, they are asked to identify themselves as someone who (1) is in treatment and had a relapse (2) thinks they may be an alcoholic, or (3) has a family member or friend who may be an alcoholic. The chatbot
then leads users through a structured conversation based on in-person interviews with real alcoholics. After each message or response, the chatbot provides guidance and a multiple choice question to continue the
conversation. All users are ultimately led to a list of tips, some of which are clickable and link to AA resources and email contacts. Others encourage users to attend a meeting and provide the location and email
contact for the user’s nearest AA meeting location.
In order to protect privacy, Facebook agreed not to share with friends when someone liked or used the AA chatbot. This means that when Facebook promotes the AA Facebook page, it will not tell users which of their friends have visited or liked the page. To avoid the impression that Facebook data was being used for targeting or that certain users were being "accused" of alcoholism, all Facebook ads for the service asked "do you know someone who needs help?" rather than “do you need help?”.
Despite steps to prevent users of the chatbot’s individually identifiable data from being publicized to their friends as part of the page’s promotion, Facebook’s data policy still applies to how users might be targeted
with Facebook advertisements from other organizations. The policy states that no user data will ever be made individually identifiable to advertisers, so advertisers will not be able to identify individual users
of the AA chatbot. But the policy also states that it uses “all of the information we have about you to show you relevant ads.” This may mean that aggregate information about those who use or like the AA chatbot,
or even the content of their interactions, could be factored into future advertisements shown to them, potentially creating an ethical conflict for AA if the products or services advertised are interpreted as promoting
Despite these concerns about data use, in Amigo Anônimo’s first week, more than 100,000 people engaged the bot, 60 percent of whom were teens. AA Brazil’s email traffic increased 1,300 percent (though the baseline is not known), and meeting attendance increased by an estimated 20 percent. While the majority of users were women, JWT has not analyzed the gender split among those seeking help for themselves and inquiries from loved ones. Despite the bot’s early success, AA’s limited capacity in Brazil has prevented further development. With no national phone helpline, calls to action are limited to web links, email contacts and meeting locations. While Facebook Messenger provided most of the features JWT envisioned, it could not support voice recording, transcription or audio response without a third-party service. JWT still hopes to facilitate peer-to-peer text and video chat through the bot, but AA Brazil lacks the resources to recruit and manage volunteers. JWT is instead exploring implementation of this next iteration with AA USA.