Some members of Congress want to pass a law that would ban the use of automated bots to purchase tickets online. By using these bots, people are able to buy thousands of tickets to popular events before an average user can even get the process started.
With thousands of tickets at their disposal, these ticket hoarders are able to manipulate ticket prices to their liking, while also making extremely large sums of money. However, IT experts believe that efforts to slow down the process might only work in favor of the criminals.
Co-founder and CEO of Distil Networks Rami Essaid said, “You’re trying to combat an enemy you can’t see. Making it illegal doesn’t allow you to see them. There’s a lot of legislation saying it’s illegal to hack, but there’s plenty of hacking still going on.”
For years, online ticket retailers have been trying to prevent the practice. For instance, Ticketmaster has spent millions of dollars since 2011 in an effort to stop hackers from scooping up excessively large sums of tickets. The company even went as far as to sue a notorious ring of ticket scalpers in New Jersey.
This has not stopped ticket-purchasing bots from working around the issue. The bots have been programmed to behave in a manner that makes them virtually indistinguishable from a real individual. The bots have even been known to use a different credit card number for each individual purchase.
From there, the tickets reappear on other websites at much higher prices. For example, last August, a Billy Joel concert, where the tickets were sold for $129, sold out in a matter of five minutes. From there the exact same tickets became available on other websites, where they were sold for anywhere between $400 and $8,000. Instances like this happen all of the time.
Last year, Democrat Senator Chuck Schumer encouraged members of the House of Representatives to support the Better Online Ticket Sales (BOTS) Act of 2014. Recently, Schumer filed a companion bill in the Senate. The act would declare the usage of bots in purchasing tickets as an “unfair and deceptive practice”, and doing so would become a federal crime. It would also allow private parties to sue in federal court to recover damages.
Schumer said at a news conference in September, “The FTC will find the websites, put a cease-and-desist order on them and prevent them from selling, plus level fines in the millions for unfair trade practice."
However, many believe that this proposed federal law will fail to work as intended. State laws that have been designed to ban such bots have already been tried in 14 different states, and these laws have greatly failed to produce any results. For instance, a similar law has existed in Tennessee since 2008, but zero people have been prosecuted.
Legal experts say that the crime is difficult to prove, and there is almost never enough evidence to make an arrest. Additionally, many mass-scalpers will purchase tickets in one state, while operating out of another. This creates confusion about where the action occurred, and it makes it difficult to determine who has proper jurisdiction.
Even if a federal law was passed, the ticket hoarders would likely just move their operations overseas. Furthermore, many experts believe that the proposed law is poorly written, as it seems to target the ticket websites rather than the ticket buyers.
Digital fraud investigator Dr. Augustine Fou said, “The websites themselves are not the ones committing the crime. In fact, Ticketmaster is a victim as well. It’s bad guys using bots to buy up the valuable tickets and reselling them elsewhere.”
Furthermore, the thriving darknet and underground black markets would make the process essentially impossible to trace. Making the use of bots illegal would only encourage such coded automation to become more prominent on the underground market.
And it’s not just sporting events and concerts that are being affected. These bots have been known to purchase everything from hotel rooms, airline tickets and even restaurant reservations. Indeed, the only way to be entirely sure that the bots aren’t functioning is to stop using the internet for ticket sales entirely.
For example, the rock band Foo Fighters recently went on a tour where the only way to purchase tickets was to do so in person at box offices. They said they did this to prevent their fans from being exploited by price-manipulating robots. However, most artists and organizations say that this practice is not practical.
For now, Congress members will keep pushing for legislation in their seemingly futile effort. But a better understanding of how to beat the automated bots in the first place is what is really needed. One way would be to require that more personal information be provided when purchasing tickets online. However, this would undoubtedly cause privacy concerns.
The way things currently are, ticket vendors are being forced to shell out millions of dollars to police themselves to little success. Unless a more collaborative effort is introduced to help out the ticket sellers, it appears ticking-buying bots will continue to thrive.