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Congress joins battle against ticket bots

Taylor Armerding | Dec. 4, 2015
Legislation now pending in Congress would outlaw the use of bots – coded automation used by scalpers – to buy up tickets to concerts and other events before the average buyer can even get in line.

At a news conference in September, Schumer said 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."

All of which sounds good. But legislation banning bots in purchasing tickets has already been tried in 14 states. Tennessee has had a law banning the use of bots to buy tickets since 2008, but the Tennessean reported a year ago that, “despite the apparent prevalence of the practice, no one has been prosecuted for this hard-to-prove crime in Davidson County.”

The first major reason for that, noted Bill Wright, director, government affairs of the Global Cybersecurity Partnerships at Symantec, is that, “the Internet is borderless. So even if a scalper, company, or organization is using coded automation (bot) illegally in one state, they may be physically located in a state that does not have anti-bot ticket purchasing laws, creating confusion about where the cause of action occurred and what state, if any, has jurisdiction.”

Bill Wright, director, government affairs of the Global Cybersecurity Partnerships, Symantec

A national law, such as the BOTS Act, would cure that problem within the U.S. But Essiad and others note that ticket scalping is global – it crosses national, as well as state, borders.

And he and others say it is clear that members of Congress don’t understand the problem, if they think the FTC can solve it by penetrating and fining websites. Dr. Augustine Fou, an independent digital ad fraud researcher and blogger, said that language is evidence that those proposing the bills don’t really understand the problem.

“The websites themselves are not the ones committing the crime,” he said. “In fact, Ticketmaster is a victim as well – bad guys using bots to buy up the valuable tickets and reselling them elsewhere.”

A spokesman for Blackburn said he would try to respond to questions from CSO regarding the effectiveness of the proposed legislation, but had not done so by press time.

Dr. Augustine Fou, independent digital ad fraud researcher and blogger

Wright said it is important to distinguish between what the ticket scalpers are doing with bots that amount to “coded automation” that is a part of their own infrastructure, and malicious “botnets” – the use of hacked “zombie” machines to launch attacks.

Still, this kind of coded automation is a form of theft, since it forces buyers to pay an inflated price for a product. And experts say making it illegal throughout the country is at least a start.

“It helps to shine a light on a problem,” Essiad said.


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