US Congress bill could be used to ban console scalper bots

A group of Democratic lawmakers reintroduced a bill aimed at preventing scalpers and the bots they deploy from hoarding hot-ticket items this holiday season and beyond. PCMag reported.

The bill, known as the Stopping Grinch Bots Act, was passed on November 29th by Rep. Paul Tonko (D-NY), Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Senator Ben Ray. reintroduced Lujan (D-NM).

“At a time when families should be spending time with loved ones, digital ‘Grinch bots’ are forcing Americans to search online sites in hopes of finding an affordable gift or paying exorbitant prices for a single toy” said Tonko in a Press release. “Not only are these bots pressuring consumers, they are a problem for small businesses, local retailers, and other business owners trying to make sure they have the best items in store for their customers.”

The Stopping Grinch Bots Act would enforce these new rules in writing:

  • “Prohibit manipulative technical practices that allow malicious actors to use bots to bypass control measures to protect real consumers.”
  • Make it an illegal violation of the Federal Trade Commission to bypass security measures, access control systems, or other technological control measures on any site or online service.
  • Make it illegal to sell or offer any product or service obtained through the method described.
  • Allow the FTC and Attorneys General to “treat these abusive workarounds as prohibited unfair or misleading acts or practices and take legal action against the evil actors”.

Details of how exactly the law should be enforced were not made clear. It’s unclear whether automated programs that constantly check website inventory would qualify as bots, or what enforcement would be against bot users outside of the US.

Tonko, Blumenthal and Schumer originally presented the bill again in November 2019, but that attempt appears to have stalled in congressional committees, reports PCMag. Since the COVID-19 pandemic began in early 2020, online sales have only increased as retailers and shoppers face the limitations and safety concerns of shopping in person. Combine this with ongoing supply chain problems around the world and the problem has made scalper an even more persistent problem, especially when it comes to valuable, popular items like video game consoles, GPUs, and other tech products. The bill extends a 2016 law that bans bots from buying tickets to music and sporting events, and makes reselling those tickets purchased through the use of bots illegal.

The Stopping Grinch Bots Act was endorsed by Consumer Reports, The Consumer Federation of America, and the National Consumers League. The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) would be responsible for enforcing the bill should it come into force.

If you’re curious to find out more, read IGN’s report carefully how bots and scalpers are ruining your chances of getting a PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series this vacation. As early as February 2021, a report stated that 10 to 15% of all PS5s were resold through scalpers. Even the The Xbox Series X refrigerator has not escaped the scalpers, sold for more than double the original price.

Joseph Knoop is a freelance worker at IGN

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