Legislators Reintroduce Bill to Put an End to Online “Grinch” Bots

  1. Prohibits manipulative work arounds that allow bad actors to use bots to circumvent control measures designed to protect real consumers.
  2. Makes it illegal to knowingly circumvent a security measure, access control system, or other technological control or measure on an Internet website or online service to maintain the integrity of posted online purchasing order rules for products or services, including toys, and would make it illegal to sell or offer to sell any product or service obtained in this manner.
  3. Allows the Federal Trade Commission to treat these abusive workarounds as prohibited unfair or deceptive acts or practices and take action against the bad actors.

The bill, which is sponsored by US Rep. Paul Tonko (D-NY) and Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), and Ben Ray Luján (D-NM), was actually introduced a year ago, but has seemingly stalled in committee since that time. With the holidays fast approaching, and RTX 3080 GPUs and Playstation 5s still impossible to purchase, the legislators are stepping up their efforts to get the bill passed for real this time.

You can rent a bot like this one, called Stellar, if you want to be part of the problem. (Image: Stellar)

In a statement seemingly referencing the pain experienced by DIY PC builders, Democratic Majority Leader Chuck Schumer wrote, “After a particularly trying year, no parent or American should have to fork over hundreds—or even thousands—of dollars to buy Christmas and holiday gifts for their children and loved ones.”

The bill would copy many of the attributes of an earlier bill passed in 2016 to prevent bots from purchasing tickets for public events such as concerts and sporting events. The BOTS Act of 2016 made it illegal for bots to attempt to circumvent measures put in place to prevent such activity in the first place, and granted the FTC the authority to enforce the law, with violations treated as unfair or deceptive acts or practices. The new “grinch” bill states that it, “…would apply the structure of the BOTS Act to e-commerce sites, to ban bots bypassing security measures on online retail sites.”

Given the fact that they tried to pass this bill a year ago, and the problem has only gotten worse since then, call us skeptical there will be any movement this time around. Even companies like AMD have attempted to stop bots from buying all its partners’ GPUs, seemingly to no avail. That said, the FTC has gone after people under the previous act, requiring three New York-based ticket brokers to pay a $3.7 million dollar fine earlier this year for buying up to 150,000 tickets for public events. Also, the ongoing supply chain issues, chip shortages, and ever-rising GPU prices might, just might, spur the legislators into action this time around. Still, we won’t be holding our breath.

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