On Monday, Senate Democrats Richard Blumenthal (Connecticut), Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (New York), and Ben Ray Luján (New Mexico) joined New York Representative Paul Tonko in announcing the Stopping Grinch Bots Act. Funny name aside, the bill is intended to stop a serious issue – the scalper market which has been exacerbated through COVID-impacted supply chain issues. The automated programs (“bots”) that buy up products for their owners to resale have been a common part of the internet’s conversation around videogames; enthusiasts will be familiar with this phenomenon from the Xbox Series and PlayStation 5 consoles that were grabbed by bots in the wake of those consoles’ release and dropped on eBay at ridiculous end cost, in turn pushing up the price of the last-gen Xbox One and PlayStation 4 consoles.
The bill being presented in both houses of the national legislature intends to crack down on these bots which third-party sellers utilize “to bypass security measures and manipulate online sales systems, leading to some toys being almost impossible to buy online or in stores at retail prices, exacerbating shortages caused by stressed supply chains.”
Congressman Tonko said in the statement, “At a time when families should be able to spend time with their loved ones, digital ‘Grinch bots’ are forcing Americans to scour online sites in the hopes of finding an affordable gift or paying exorbitant prices for a single toy.”
As doing a good thing for ordinary working people isn’t enough to get American legislators behind a bill, Tonko continued, “These bots don’t just squeeze customers, they pose a problem for small businesses, local retailers and other entrepreneurs to ensure they have the best items in stock for their customers. Our Grinch Bots Act works to level the playing field and prevent scalpers from sucking hardworking parents dry this holiday season. I urge my colleagues to join me in passing this legislation immediately to stop these Grinch bots from stealing the holidays.”
The bill is tied into holidays because of the connection between commerce and social values they invoke which enables a name like “Stopping Grinch Bots Act” to deal with a perennial problem. As PC Mag points out, this is the reintroduction of a bill originally proposed in Nov. 2019. It expands on the BOTS Act (Better Online Ticket Sales Act), which was put forward by Blumenthal, Schumer, and Tonko in 2016. As the legislator’s statement puts it, the BOTS Act bans “ticket bots” that circumvent online ticket website security to unfairly outprice individual fans.
It’s impossible to predict whether the bill will pass—though it doesn’t seem impossible—or whether it will be effective. Perhaps it will just lead to authorized scalping retailers operating in much the same way secondhand ticket sellers like TicketMaster, StubHub, and SeatGeek operate. But then, we’ve already got eBay and Amazon; so, perhaps this bill, if it becomes law, will cut back on hoarding for resale. It cannot, however, under the current circumstances of an economic system that rewards the fabrication of scarcity, solve it permanently.