Following Taylor Swift Disaster, the FTC Is Under Fire For Failing To Stop Illegal Ticket-Buying “Bots”

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In the wake of Ticketmaster’s disastrous presale of tickets for Taylor Swift’s upcoming concert tour, a bipartisan duo of U.S. Senators have called out the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for not taking sufficient steps to fight the widespread use of illegal “bots” in the online ticket marketplace.  

After the Taylor Swift debacle, Ticketmaster claimed that the numerous issues with purchasing pre-sale tickets was due to its website being swarmed with billions of bots.  Bots are software programs designed to access and purchase online tickets at volumes and speeds that a human ticket purchaser cannot compete with.  Bots are typically employed by individuals and entities who seek to buy up as many tickets as possible in order to sell them in the resale market, at a significantly increased price.  

Bots are also illegal.  The 2016 Better Online Ticket Sales (BOTS) Act prohibits “the circumvention of a security measure, access control system, or other technological control measure used online by a ticket issuer” and prohibits the sale of tickets that ticket sellers know were obtained through those means.  

When bots swarm an online ticket sale, it makes it substantially more difficult, if not impossible, for legitimate purchasers to buy tickets.  Ticketmaster should be taking precautions to prevent bots from commandeering its ticket sales.  However, Ticketmaster has no incentive to prevent bots.  First, Ticketmaster makes a sale, regardless of whether the money comes from a “bot” purchase or a legitimate purchaser.  Additionally, Ticketmaster runs its own resale site, where it charges an additional, higher fee in addition to the fee imposed on the original sale.  By allowing and encouraging bots to swoop in and buy all the tickets initially, Ticketmaster can then collect a second fee from concertgoers who were unfortunate to get shut out in the initial ticket sale and are now trying to buy on Ticketmaster’s secondary market, at a highly inflated price.

Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), who were co-sponsors of the BOTS Act, have sent a letter to the FTC.  The letter references several incidents, in addition to Taylor Swift, in which ticket purchasers encountered serious difficulties in purchasing tickets that were likely the result of bot swarms. The letter asks why the FTC has only taken a single enforcement action under the BOTS Act in the six years since it became law, and asks if there are obstacles preventing the FTC from enforcing the BOTS Act, particularly in light of all the apparent problems that bots are causing, and whether Congress needs to take any further action. 

It is unclear why the FTC has failed to take any significant action, although it seems likely that it will do so in light of recent headline-grabbing events.  Since Ticketmaster will almost certainly not take any action to prevent bots on its own, it is up to the FTC to enforce the BOTS Act and reduce the stranglehold that the use of bots maintains over online ticket sales.





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