The Ticket Bots Won

If you have tried to buy tickets to a live music gig in recent years, you have probably encountered a significant amount of frustration. Tickets are put on sale at one price and then rapidly purchased by wholesale buyers or bots, many of whom are operating with the full knowledge of the ticket sellers, and then sold on with a huge markup. The result is that the average consumer has to contend with massively overinflated prices for any gig.

There are a number of reasons why this has become the case, but the rise of automated tools and bots are among the most significant factors. It is estimated that 40% of ticket purchases are now made by bots, not people. In fact, we may have already lost the war against ticket bots. Some believe they are an inescapable part of the industry.

An Ongoing Problem

Ticket scalpers have evolved with the times and now use bots in order to purchase tickets as soon as they go on sale. In many cases, they automatically list them for resale immediately after. There is a lot of money to be made with the markup on some tickets being many multiples of the original price.

There have been ticket scalps as long as there have been tickets to events being sold. However, it is only in recent years that advances in technology have enabled them to take their game to the next level. No longer does a ticket scalp have to actually purchase tickets themselves. They can simply write a simple script to do it for them.

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These bots are a relatively new addition to the situation. However, the bots have already shown that they are here to stay. The problem is so severe that the US Congress passed legislation aimed at curtailing the existence and prevalence of these ticket scalping bots.

Legislation passed in 2016 made it illegal to use automated bots in order to circumvent the measures used to prevent the automated purchasing of tickets.

However, despite the introduction of this law, the problem persists. This is perhaps unsurprising when you consider that as many as 78% of the bots operating today are so sophisticated that they are all but indistinguishable from a human.

An Evolving Problem

Modern ticket scalping bots are not just purchasing tickets either. According to at least one industry one report, bots are also being used to conduct credit card fraud, map inventory scraping, and even the takeover of fan accounts. In other words, many of the bots are not only purchasing tickets but are also engaged in criminal behavior against legitimate users.

The problem is so bad that even big corporations are finding themselves having to purchase off-the-shelf purchasing bots in order to buy tickets to events that they would otherwise miss out on. but as long as that 40% figure remains true, there will be a very strong incentive for every kind of customer to utilize these purchasing bots. Not only does this present a challenge in itself, but it also renders the legislative efforts at curtailing the problem useless.

Can Anything Be Done?

This issue with ticket scalping bots has been going on for some time now. While various solutions have been proposed, it has also been discovered at various points that the ticket industry is actively working with scalpers. Not long ago, one of the major ticket sellers was caught running a parallel service for selling second-hand tickets, many of which had been purchased by approved bulk buyers through their main site.

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Even with the efforts of US legislators, the problem will still continue until the industry itself is also ready to take some more concrete steps. The law passed in the US makes it illegal to circumvent existing protections using automatic purchasing bots. However, it does not make the use of these bots themselves illegal.

While illegal ticket purchasing is a problem across the world, it is a particular problem in North America and Canada. In fact, the USA accounts for a whopping 67% of all the bots currently in operation. The next closest is Canada, which accounts for 18%.

Right now, the war against bots appears to be lost. However, there may be a way of fighting back. The bad news is that it is going to require the industry themselves, who largely don’t seem to care, implementing some changes.

The report’s authors are encouraging ticket sellers to use modern CAPTCHA methods in order to detect bots. A large number of ticket scalping bots are still using virtualized browsers that are relatively easy to detect. The report also named a number of specific hosting providers whose services are used by scalpers. Blocking access to websites from these hosts would go a long way to reducing the amount of virtual ticket scalping going on.

In order to be truly effective against ever more sophisticated bots, businesses need to lock down their APIs and mobile apps as well as their websites. Introducing active traffic monitoring on all platforms will make spotting bots a lot easier. Website owners should also familiarise themselves with the most basic features of a bot and how they can be detected above other internet traffic.

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Until this kind of serious action is taken, bots will continue to prevail against people. This is not a problem that can be solved by anyone other than the industry itself. So far, they don’t seem very interested.

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