Computer bots limit event tickets for fans



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Posted on May 21, 2014 at 11:26 PM

Updated Thursday, May 22 at 1:19 PM

Long before the big play or the first note is hit, shutout ticket buyers are singing the blues.

How does this happen?  One major reason is because of vast computer networks called bots. Bots are able to buy tickets at lightning speed, shutting out humans.

Ngai Kwan is the ticketing manager for the Seattle Theatre Group, which includes the Paramount, Moore and Neptune Theatres.

“They are grabbing as many seats as they can, hoarding them for themselves and picking and choosing the good ones,” said Kwan.  “It’s like gillnetting.  They’re getting everything and we can’t stop them.”

Kwan walked me through a ticket sale of a recent concert.  Just one minute into the sale, tickets are being purchased much faster that a human could.

“In one minute all of these are locked up, only these have been sold,” explained Kwan.

In just two minutes in and the tickets have all been bought or are being held in a shopping cart.  So to anybody trying to buy from home, it would appear the show is sold out.

So how does Kwan know these are bots?  Time tells the tale.

“This has been in a cart for eight minutes.  Other people were able to finish their orders in two minutes.  That’s the fingerprint of a bot right there, locked up and not going anywhere,” said Kwan.

Tickets can only be held for 10 minutes, so when time’s up the bots release the tickets and pick them up again.

Jake Bernstein from the Washington Attorney General’s office said frustrated buyers are left to buy their tickets on the secondary market, sometimes from the people who are actually running the bots.

“Your choice is to go see the show for triple or quintuple the face value of the ticket or not go.  That’s your choice, which is not a fair choice,” said Bernstein.

Making matters worse for consumers is that the use of bots is legal in Washington.

“Our state is making it legal for people to use bots which eat up tickets,” explained Josh LaBelle with the Seattle Theatre Group.

LaBelle wants consumers to ask their legislators to do what California just did:  pass a law making bots illegal.

“We’re trailing behind.  We’re not as progressive as we like to paint ourselves to be,” explained LaBelle.