Legislation like the BOTS Act of 2016 [Better Online Ticket Sales] in the U.S. will not solve the increasingly intrusive problem of robots gobbling up primary market seats on the internet, but it’s a start. However, before the BOTS Act even has a bite, ticketing companies and venues must put deterrents in place. Without something the ticketbuying software called bots must circumvent to score tickets, no law is broken.
Rami Essaid, Distil Networks, talked about the BOTS Act during INTIX this year and followed it up with a free webinar on bots and what to do about them. His most attentive audience was from theaters that have booked “Hamilton” for its summer run.
Press releases and conferences heralding the BOTS Act and the fact it is illegal to purchase performance tickets online using robots is a start. Essaid recommended that avenue. Wharton Center for the Arts, East Lansing, Mich., is one that took a PR approach to the problem.
“My biggest recommendation is exactly that — venues and artists need to continue to talk about this and say it’s a big issue,” said Essaid.
Beyond that, venue managers need to be well informed on the issue and the potential solutions, though it’s generally the ticket broker who has the power to put deterrents in place. Essaid and Niels Sodemann, CEO of Queue-it, conducted the webinar on how the BOTS Act impacts premium on sales and the ticketing industry’s ecosystem, revealing that anytime they hear about a show selling out in a minute or two, they know there are bots at play.
It’s not possible to process those orders on the fastest, most robust ticketing site in less than about 20 minutes, Sodemann said.
During the webinar, they defined the various methods used by bots today, warning that the minute one avenue closes, another is found. Methods of buying up tickets before the general public makes it into the queue include scalping, which is buying multiple tickets multiple times with bots, as many as quickly as possible; sniping, which is when a bot sits and watches the inventory, waiting till the end to grab what it wants; and spinning, which they called the “absolute worst.” With spinning, the robot can hold the tickets in its shopping cart and export them to the secondary market without ever buying them until they are resold.
It’s all done at superhuman speed.
Legislation to combat bots has passed in the U.S., is being addressed in the U.K. and is under consideration in Canada. But the problem is global. If someone is scalping, spinning or sniping tickets in China, the laws can’t stop them.
The goal in ticketing is that real users are able to buy tickets and are happy with the transaction. To accomplish that, ticketing companies and venues have to be forever vigilant, ahead of the curve and nimble in reacting.
Legislation could even add to the problem. If, for example, CAPTCHA (a manually entered code to prove the user is not a robot) is required of every customer who buys a ticket, transaction time would slow dramatically. And CAPTCHA can be bypassed in seconds by programming a bot with 30,000 different words.
More and more artists are demanding ticketing companies have anti-bot protection in place. But it’s not illegal to buy and resell tickets. Sodemann said he can find 10 websites that teach the technology needed to spin tickets. The price of learning is down to about $1,000. Go to TicketBots.net, he suggested, or look up “technology broker spinnerbot.”
“It’s not an expensive endeavor for the bad guys; there are pre-made tools and open-source solutions to defeat you,” Essaid warned.
One of the major issues is account takeovers, Essaid added. Estimates suggest there are over 1.5 billion compromised user names and passwords out there, which can be run against your site. Breaches are at an all time high, and 50 percent of bot attacks start with stolen credentials.
Queue-it has developed a tool to prevent spinner bots by taking everybody into a pre-qualifying queue where they are assigned an identifier and random number. They then have a fair chance of getting the ticket.
Whatever ticketers do, the key is to not ignore the issue. “You have to take a multi-faceted approach to address every angle; there is no silver bullet,” Essaid said.
Distil offers a Hi-Def Fingerprint option that profiles the actual machine being used, not the IP address or cookies, which means scalpers must buy a new computer to make another purchase.
Today, venues are writing language into RFPs for ticketing services that require bot mitigation solutions, Essaid said. Companies like Ticketmaster have launched Verified Fan, an attempt to identify human buyers from bots.
“If the artists and venues start clamoring about bots, we will see those ticket brokers and technology platforms take it more seriously,” Essaid said.
Meanwhile, “just get something in place,” Essaid said. Go beyond protection from the site going down to protection against bots buying all the tickets. “If the bot is written well enough, it’s not going to take down the site but will beat out all the humans to get the tickets. Bots today are as clever and incognito as possible.”
“At the end of the day, this is an arms race,” Essaid said. “You don’t build it once and forget about it because the technology of the bots keeps advancing and there’s enough money in this it’s worth investing in.”
Education is a big part of dealing with this issue, he added. Both the industry and the public need to understand what’s going on. While Essaid admits to being somewhat critical of the BOTS Act of 2016 because the law has minimal bite and the problem is  global, he is looking forward to a few high profile prosecutions, just to increase awareness.