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US lawmakers announce bill to prohibit bot scalping of high demand goods

"So everyone has a fair chance of buying popular products at reasonable prices".

Politicians in the US have announced a new legislative bill - named the Stopping Grinch Bots Act, after the Dr. Seuss character that stole Christmas - which seeks to curtail the scalping of high demand toys and goods.

The bill, which specifically targets scalpers using bots to snap up online inventories of in-demand items in order to resell them at significantly higher prices, doesn't limit its focus to the video games industry, but it would certainly cover items such as consoles and graphics cards - both of which have been hit particularly hard by scalping as a result of supply chain issues worsened during the pandemic.

"These third-party sellers use bots to bypass security measures and manipulate online sales systems to buy toys," the press release announcing the bill explains, "leading to some toys being almost impossible to buy online or in stores at retail prices, exacerbating shortages caused by stressed supply chains."

"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," the announcement continues. "These bots don't just squeeze consumers, they pose a problem for small businesses, local retailers and other entrepreneurs trying to ensure they have the best items in stock for their customers".

The bill (thanks PC Mag) has been proposed by Representative Paul Tonko (D-NY), Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-NY), and Senator Ben Ray Luján (D-NM), and is intended to "create a more level playing field so everyone has a fair chance of buying popular products at reasonable prices when shopping online."

It follows a similar proposal - the Better Online Ticket Sales Act (BOTS Act) - that was signed into law in 2016, prohibiting the use of automated bots to acquire tickets for public events and making it illegal for scalpers to sell those tickets. The authors of the proposed legislation - which is supported by the Consumer Reports, Consumer Federation of America, and the National Consumer League - say it would apply similar mechanisms used in the BOTS Act to ban bots bypassing security measures implemented by online retail sites.

PC Mag notes this isn't the first time such a bill has been proposed. Tonko, Blumenthal, and Schumer originally introduced the legislation in 2019, but its progress stalled in Congressional committees. The lawmakers are clearly hoping the increased stock shortages resulting from current global supply chain issues will help drum up more support this time around.

Here in the UK, stories of scalpers and scalping groups dominating the headlines (such as these, these, and these) have similarly drawn the ire of MPs. Last December, a number of politicians put forward an Early Day Motion in UK Parliament to prohibit the resale of consoles and PC parts that are significantly overpriced - similar to existing legislation for the secondary selling of tickets - while also proposing the resale of goods purchased by bots could be made illegal. That motion has so far drawn cross-party support from 35 MPs, although, perhaps crucially, no Conservative MPs have yet signed the proposal.

In February this year, the Gaming Hardware (Automated Purchase and Resale) Bill 2019-21 - intended to prohibit the automated purchase and resale of games consoles and computer components - was introduced to the House of Commons by Scottish National Party MP Douglas Chapman. However, it is still yet to receive its second reading.

February also saw the UK government's Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy respond to a petition signed by 15,500 people, calling for a change in the law to tackle console scalping. The department said it had been discussing the issue of "bulk purchasing of high demand items like graphics cards and games consoles through automated bots with trade associations such as Ukie".

"We understand they are currently examining further actions they can take to prevent these behaviours," the government statement continued, "and are working with their retailers to improve experiences for customers purchasing their products."

With no government legislation in place, however, Ukie told Eurogamer it could only recommend that consumers "stay patient... refuse to buy from scalpers and... buy from a trusted retailer" for the time being.

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