Democratic lawmakers introduce bill that could ban auto-checkout bots

Polycount

Posts: 3,005   +589
Staff member
In brief: Buying up high-demand products for resale at an exorbitant mark-up (AKA scalping) has been a common tactic for decades. Unfortunately, with the rise of technology and automated checkout bots, the problem has become nearly unmanageable for retailers and ordinary consumers who want to get their hands on the latest toys, gaming consoles, and PC hardware. Some relief might finally be in sight, though: lawmakers are introducing a bill that could ban the use of checkout bots outright.

The bill has been dubbed the "Stopping Grinch Bots Act," and it is being introduced by a group of Democratic lawmakers: Connecticut's Richard Blumenthal, New York's Paul Tonko and Charles Schumer, and finally, New Mexico's Ben Ray Luján. You'll find the full text of the announcement on Tonko's website.

For starters, we should note that while the bulk of the announcement focuses on bots buying up toys and (to quote Senator Blumenthal) "ruining kids' holidays," the wording of the bill itself is much broader and may apply to a wide range of products. That includes PS5s, the Xbox Series X/S, and perpetually sold-out GPUs.

The bill states that it would be unlawful to "circumvent a security measure, access control system, or other technological control" intended to enforce purchasing limits or manage inventory. It would be similarly illegal to sell products that a seller knew, or should have known, were acquired through those means. Exceptions are made for security researchers probing for vulnerabilities.

At least, that was the bill's text when it was first introduced in late 2018, and subsequently in 2019. An updated 2021 version of the bill has not been published on the official Congress website yet, though it's unlikely that much will have changed.

It's worth noting that it isn't just Democratic lawmakers that are seeking to curb the usage of bots and similar tech in online shopping -- Consumer Reports, the National Consumer League, and the Consumer Federation of America have all publicly backed the bill. No Republican lawmakers have signed on yet, but perhaps they'll support it down the line; if the bill manages to get off the ground.

With that summary out of the way, what are your thoughts on this legislation? Do you feel it's the right move to combat bots, or should a different strategy be adopted? Whatever your opinion, let us know in the comments below.

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silversea

Posts: 47   +84
Scalping should be banned across the board with no exceptions if you want to make money get a real job, and help our economy instead of stealing money from hard-working people, put a ban on all forms of scalping I am all for it, and if a ban is put in place it needs to be enforced to the fullest extent of the law whatever that may be.
 

EdmondRC

Posts: 240   +324
I'm a conservative and so I'm typically against laws that give the government any more control over our lives. However, this is trying to regulate a cheat system rather than how we buy, use, or sell goods we purchase. So, I'm in favor of this because the bots are bad for the market place and these same bots could be used for commodities in the future if they are not stopped. GPUs are one thing, but imagine if it became impossible to buy more necessary goods because some bot is swiping them before you even saw that it was available. With so much of our economy online, I think this measure makes sense.
 

eforce

Posts: 882   +1,261
I'm a conservative and so I'm typically against laws that give the government any more control over our lives. However, this is trying to regulate a cheat system rather than how we buy, use, or sell goods we purchase. So, I'm in favor of this because the bots are bad for the market place and these same bots could be used for commodities in the future if they are not stopped. GPUs are one thing, but imagine if it became impossible to buy more necessary goods because some bot is swiping them before you even saw that it was available. With so much of our economy online, I think this measure makes sense.

So you like your own slice of tyranny when it suits you, what a principled position...
 

Neatfeatguy

Posts: 787   +1,372
Scalping online with bots is just part of the problem. The problem won't vanish if this bill goes through. In fact, it probably won't make a dent because people will find ways around it and still scalp.

A bigger problem with the current situation, at least with GPUs, are the distributors/manufacturers selling large swaths of product directly to scalpers and/or miners. So many GPUs haven't seen the retailer's shelves, they've just been sold directly to other parties and in return has created an artificial shortage that's driven prices up, even at retailers. AMD and Nvidia can't have record GPU sales over the past 1-1.5 years and still have everyone believe a "chip shortage" is to blame.

Other issues you have when it comes to consoles, you get people working at retail places that will hold consoles for family or friends or themselves. I know people that have obtained a PS5 or Xbox (whatever the heIl model they are selling this time around) because of a friend or family member working at a retail location has held them. I also know of a few people that have had multiple consoles go through their hands as they resell them on ebay for double the cost.

In the end, it sounds good on paper and consumers will be like, "Oh yeah! Look! They do care about us!", but it's not going to make a lick of difference.

The only real way to bypass the scalping bots, stop selling the merchandise online and move it to brick and mortar stores. While this isn't a perfect process and can be problematic for some people getting out to store locations, but it can better limit buying just to scalp if purchasing of an item (such as a console or GPU) is limited to 1 per household for 30 days. It should be that some items can only be purchased with a valid ID, once every 30 days. This would reduce a lot of the scalping issues, but not all of it because people will still find ways around it. If there is money to be made, people will do what they can for the all mighty $.
 

Arbie

Posts: 362   +655
I expected to see folks here piling on these Dems for this silly, showboat legislation. And though a Dem I could hardly argue, as it's a very poor choice of targets for a new law. But... everyone wants a new GPU! Pixels over politics!
 

EdmondRC

Posts: 240   +324
So you like your own slice of tyranny when it suits you, what a principled position...
We're talking about preventing bots, lines of code that can maneuver around security measures meant to stop them, from buying and selling goods that are meant to be available to the store's customers. These bots specifically buy goods that are hard to come by in order to resell them to the same customers that should have had the option to buy them at regular price. There is no taking away of rights or liberties by stopping people and organizations (often foreign) from using bots to subvert the normal activities of buying and selling. This is not a conservative/liberal, republican/democrat, or an individual rights/liberties issue. Scalpers can still scalp; they just can't do so with an unfair advantage of getting to the goods faster and buying up all the good available before a real person has the chance to do so. I would say such a law is protecting liberties of individuals not infringing on them.
 

EdmondRC

Posts: 240   +324
I expected to see folks here piling on these Dems for this silly, showboat legislation. And though a Dem I could hardly argue, as it's a very poor choice of targets for a new law. But... everyone wants a new GPU! Pixels over politics!
I don't need a GPU, I have a 3080 I bought at MSRP a year ago. I agree with the aspect of the law that protects the right to buy goods of the individual over a bot meant to subvert the security that is there to protect customers. I'm also a conservative. Unfortunately, though, the law is probably more showboating as you have said. I'm not against commonsense laws that protect people's rights and I think a valid argument could be made that these bots create an unfair marketplace where an individual is losing his or her right to buy goods at a fair price. If it was commodities and not GPUs, this would have already happened. If someone can tell me how an individual's rights are being infringed by stopping people from utilizing lines of code to subvert website security, I would be happy to change my opinion on this.
 

seeprime

Posts: 673   +885
Unless bots begin disrupting energy markets or Wall Street, I don't believe that the FBI will allocate too many resources to tracking down bot operators, sadly.
 

EdmondRC

Posts: 240   +324
Why is this written in such a partisan way? Oh right because this is a right wing dog whistle site.
I'm interested to know, as a conservative, what part of this article was a dog whistle. In theory, a dog whistle is something only a dog could hear, so I am wondering how you picked up on this whistle, while I'm oblivious to it? Maybe, perhaps, people can think for themselves? I support people's right to be for or against this bill based on their own individual ability to think and reason. Do you?
 

QuantumPhysics

Posts: 6,249   +7,169
Apple solved iPhone scalping.

Why can't THE FREE MARKET as well?

Microsoft, Sony, Nvidia and AMD could do exactly what apple did.

#1 force preorders.
#2 review preorders.
#3 distribute to the pre-orders.
 

wiyosaya

Posts: 7,474   +6,257
I would assume is already way too late unless this is like passed overnight and somehow enforced inside a week or so.
Nothing is going to happen instantly. At least it will be there as of its effective date and for the future.

However, I really don't think anything like a law is going to stop those people from doing it. We've got the "Do Not Call" registry in the US where if you list your phone number within that registry, "telemarketers" are supposed to check to see if your number is listed on it before they call and try to sell you anything. Its hard to say whether that helps or not because we still seem to be getting our share of telemarketing calls and outright scam calls anyway. We pretty much ignore all of them and let our answering machine take all our calls.

People who do stuff like that must reason that the potential gain outweighs the risk. Rarely is it ever publicized that company xyz was prosecuted and given a substantial fine for violating the "Do No Call" registry.

IMO, what is really needed is for sites where it is possible to buy stuff like this to find a way to block these types of bots. Pessimistically speaking, I don't think that is going to happen because that would cut in on their sales and prevent them from making their $$ on the transactions.
 

wiyosaya

Posts: 7,474   +6,257
Apple solved iPhone scalping.

Why can't THE FREE MARKET as well?

Microsoft, Sony, Nvidia and AMD could do exactly what apple did.

#1 force preorders.
#2 review preorders.
#3 distribute to the pre-orders.
Maybe you should watch this - https://www.pbs.org/show/hacking-your-mind/ and then tell us about the "Free Market" again especially after you note how crApple does exactly what is outlined in the series.
 

Theinsanegamer

Posts: 3,317   +5,507
So you like your own slice of tyranny when it suits you, what a principled position...
What a reasonable resposne, no wonder people think your typical liberal is a stuck up jackarse.
Scalping should be banned across the board with no exceptions if you want to make money get a real job, and help our economy instead of stealing money from hard-working people, put a ban on all forms of scalping I am all for it, and if a ban is put in place it needs to be enforced to the fullest extent of the law whatever that may be.
That kind of overarching regulation would be ripe for abuse, and could easily be used to prevent someone from reselling anything they own.
Oh hell yes. Hope this passes. Of course the shitty Republicans will vote against it, just because Dems made it.

How will this work though, for overseas bots?
You mean like dems who voted against trump's spending bills because MUH DRUMPH, or the EO to reduce insulin prices that biden immediately revoked because muh orange man?

Shitty politicians are shitty, regardless of which side they're on.
I expected to see folks here piling on these Dems for this silly, showboat legislation. And though a Dem I could hardly argue, as it's a very poor choice of targets for a new law. But... everyone wants a new GPU! Pixels over politics!
I fail to see how it's a poor choice. Scalping bots have arguable pumped up the value of an entire industry, and they do not limit themselves to just computer components. It's not to far feteched to see these bots being used on other markets, from food to daily necessities to parts for your HVAC system or car, should there prove to be a demand. One can argue that automating purchases of mass quantites of items on a site meant for individuals is an abuse of the system put in place, and many would agree.

The way I see it, by banning auto bots the only people you are going to hurt are rich scalpers/miners who need to buy as much of a product as possible, the avereage joe just rying to buy an electronic isnt using auto bots. Unlike something like crypto or bittorrent that has arguabley legal and useful applications, auto buying bots function exclusively for those who want to game the system for their own benefit.
Why is this written in such a partisan way? Oh right because this is a right wing dog whistle site.
So being partisan is a "right wing dog whistle" now? Is this an extension of "reporting facts is racist"?

Perhaps people are allowed to fell the way they feel about a bill without their voter regisration automatically determining their opinions. The world isnt just black and white.
 

Dimitriid

Posts: 2,080   +3,983
Nothing is going to happen instantly. At least it will be there as of its effective date and for the future.

However, I really don't think anything like a law is going to stop those people from doing it. We've got the "Do Not Call" registry in the US where if you list your phone number within that registry, "telemarketers" are supposed to check to see if your number is listed on it before they call and try to sell you anything. Its hard to say whether that helps or not because we still seem to be getting our share of telemarketing calls and outright scam calls anyway. We pretty much ignore all of them and let our answering machine take all our calls.

People who do stuff like that must reason that the potential gain outweighs the risk. Rarely is it ever publicized that company xyz was prosecuted and given a substantial fine for violating the "Do No Call" registry.

IMO, what is really needed is for sites where it is possible to buy stuff like this to find a way to block these types of bots. Pessimistically speaking, I don't think that is going to happen because that would cut in on their sales and prevent them from making their $$ on the transactions.
I was basically thinking among the same lines: the bottom like is that we have 2 main factors at the core of the issue

1) Online sales have not only become ubiquitous but a basic necessity in order for economies not to collapse under unmanageable inflation: People have flocked to online retailers not just because of the convenience but because up until today it was a good stop-gap solution to lower the costs of goods or at least keep pull them back from uncontrollable inflation before everything became mostly too expensive for most people to purchase.

2) It is fundamentally a feature of the free market for people to be able to re-sell goods: The long term solution I am sure we will see proposed soon would be to mandate first sale doctrine for every product even if they are not the original copyright item and are just copies of the work.

This means that under the current system people need to accept that "scalping" is not a bug but a feature of the free market economy, or basically give control of the market to someone and I am almost certain absolutely nobody wants a centrally planned economy, so the manufacturers will try to step in and suggest "Well, why don't let us control things by expanding first sale doctrine and basically make the secondary market fully illegal?"

These musings however are me just discussing issues and not actually proposing solutions mind you, because I honestly don't think there is a long term solution: trying to curve down online retailing abuse is a stop gap, just like trying to control things by controlling supply as we had before proved to be an extremely fragile solution that collapsed under the weight of a few months of global pandemic manufacturing and logistic shut down.