Congress Outlaws Bots That Snatch Up Tickets for Scalpers

Protecting consumers across the internet.

Getty Images / Jamie Squire

Congress this week passed the Better Online Ticket Sales (or BOTS) Act, which is designed to crack down on scalpers employing bots to snatch up event tickets just as they go on sale, only to be resold later for profit. Most people have experienced the frustration of having to scramble for tickets to a concert, play, or sporting event, only to cough up way more than expected in the end because some automated program got there in the milliseconds after ticket sales went live. The BOTS Act is part of a global response with governments figuring out how to regulate these developing technologies, as countries in Europe have taken similar steps to protect online ticket buyers.

The law, which was spearheaded by Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY), and aided by activism on the part of artists like Lin-Manuel Miranda, will class the use of bots as an “unfair and deceptive practice” under the Federal Trade Commission Act. The agency will be able to now come after scalpers who continue to use them.

The bots lead to substantially inflated prices. The Verge notes that “A report from New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman found that resale prices on sites like Ticketmaster and StubHub were 49 percent above face value on average, and sometimes ten times the face value.” Finally, legitimate ticket promoters and venues have a means with which to push back against those who would make everyone pay more to attend their events.

That Congress has shown itself willing to regulate these kinds of practice is encouraging — and not just for the wallets of present-day concert goers. As A.I. technologies grow more advanced, the presence of bots is sure to be felt in areas beyond event ticket sales. Imagine a Cyber Monday where half of Amazon’s inventory gets bought up and made more expensive by re-sellers before the public even has a chance to take a look. This is undoubtedly not the last time that Congress will have to weigh in on the matter of bots. One hopes that in the future they will display similar receptiveness to the plight of overpaying consumers.

As Lin-Manuel Miranda said, perhaps a bit dramatically, in this New York Times Op-Ed, “You shouldn’t have to fight robots just to see something you love.”

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