Ticket-Buying Bots: More Laws Aren’t the Answer

If you’ve ever tried to buy tickets to a hot show, chances are you’ve been thwarted at some level by automated ticket-buying computer programs. These bots are capable of conducting hundreds of transaction a second, elbowing out humans for the best seats in the house. Those tickets inevitably end up on the secondary market selling for many times their face value.

This feels like cheating and profiteering. But what do we do about bots? More laws? Maybe not. Bobby points us towards this article at Recode called

Bots carried out 74 billion interactions with websites in 2015. It’s amazing to consider that human activity accounted for 54 percent of traffic on the internet last year while bots weren’t far behind at 46 percent, according to an annual analysis by my company, Distil Networks, of the sources and types of bot attacks.

Bots aren’t all malicious electronic vermin. In fact, 60 percent of them are “good bots” that deliver useful services such as search engine indexing, stock trade execution, airfare discount notifications, news updates and weather alerts.

But the rest — 40 percent — are able to mimic human behavior and perform an array of nefarious activities, from denial of service attacks to unauthorized data gathering to spam and automated scalping.

Scalper bots, by rigging ticket sales in a fundamentally unfair way and hurting consumers, clearly are bad bots. And one of the most disturbing things about them is that the software to create them is cheaply and widely available on the internet. All an unsavory ticket broker has to do is download the code and they’re in business beating you or me to enormous quantities of seats.

These digital troublemakers aren’t the most technologically sophisticated bots in the world — for example, they’re not as adept at disguising themselves or tampering with websites as today’s most advanced bots are — but they certainly get the job done.

Using these programs, a shady broker can constantly monitor the sites of primary ticket sellers to detect the release of tickets, automatically search for and reserve tickets that are for sale, and robotize the process of buying tickets. In effect, one scalper can use bots to turn himself into a million-ticket buyers.

The bots are also able to elude the CAPTCHA test (“Completely Automated Public Turing Test to Tell Computers and Humans Apart”) — the Rorschach-like combination of letters and numbers that legitimate ticket vendors make you solve. It’s not really a fair fight because most modern bots are able to outsmart all kinds of CAPTCHAs.

Ticketing is a fixed game


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Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 37914 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

One thought on “Ticket-Buying Bots: More Laws Aren’t the Answer

  • Ticketing is a fixed game, for sure. I have excellent success getting tickets mostly because I have figured out when the bots aren’t watching. Then, I slip in and slip out with my tickets like a U2 release in your iTunes. Ticketmaster should remove the Captcha step from their process to at least allow a fair fight with the bots. In the precious seconds that you are proving that “you’re not a robot;” the bots are letting the scalpers in the side door and filling up the first rows.


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