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The Rise Of The Ticketing Bots

Duncan MacRae is former editor and now a contributor to TechWeekEurope. He previously edited Computer Business Review's print/digital magazines and CBR Online, as well as Arabian Computer News in the UAE.

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Paco Garcia, CTO, Yoti, explains exactly what ticketing bots are and how they’re affecting the industry

The 2016 RBS Six Nations Championship is in full flow. Teams from across Europe – England, France, Italy, Scotland and Wales – are looking to knock defending champions Ireland from the title spot.

Sports fans often face issues when it comes to purchasing tickets to international events like this online. Rugby World Cup organisers launched a campaign last year to stop tickets being resold for huge profits, issuing more than 600 letters to people doing so. But the touts themselves are not the only issue here – it’s also down to the rapid rise of ticketing bots.

What is a bot?

A bot (derived from the word robot) is a computer program designed to accomplish a specific goal faster and cheaper than a human could.

There are a myriad of different applications: online computer games, chat bots, a secretary that can sort out meetings for you and, of course, online tickets buying bots.

using computer searchingBots have become more problematic as they have become more widely available, they are no longer only accessible to high-end computer programmers. It’s possible to purchase a ticketing bot online in just a few clicks – one site, for example, claims to have been providing a bot service to “ticket brokers” for almost 10 years.

It’s unclear whether these systems were initially developed with malicious intent or whether they were the experiment of a genuine fan who didn’t want to miss out on purchasing tickets. Either way, it’s clear that they are being used for the sole aim of purchasing as many tickets as possible to re-sell for as much money as possible.

Given the covert nature of the industry, it’s difficult to put exact numbers on profit that these bots are helping to bring. That said, the 2015 Rugby World Cup saw one pair of tickets, originally priced at £515, advertised online at a whopping £28,320.

This issue isn’t exclusive to the sporting industry but also applies heavily in the music and entertainment industries. UK singer Adele’s upcoming US tour took just minutes to sell out – and it wasn’t long before hundreds appeared on re-sale websites for £6,000 a pair. Artists are now looking for new ways to combat the problem. US band Foo Fighters, for example, are now only allowing tickets to be sold face to face at a box office.

Bots also raise serious concerns around online ticketing fraud, which makes organised crime networks £40m in the UK every year. Consumers, unable to buy tickets due to heavy web traffic, head to a ticket resale website. And despite the tickets being far more expensive, there are several available so a customer makes a purchase. Months later, they attempt to use the tickets at an event – of course, they are invalid.

What can be done?

The fundamental problem with bots is that computer programs can’t tell the difference between another computer program (a bot) and a real human. Savvy software engineers have come up with some techniques to try identify bots like using captchas and sophisticated rules using cookies and IP address blacklists but bots are even smarter and use advanced AI and anonymised changing IP addresses to bypass all these controls. A system that can ensure uniqueness at the biometric level will definitely become an important ally in the fight against unwanted bots.

Identity and authenticity are key when it comes to battling the bots and creating a fair resale environment. It should be clear that a real person is making the initial purchase, being able to prove who they are in seconds to verify they are a genuine buyer. There should also be a way to link an identity to a ticket in a way that cannot be disproved, ensuring the ticket cannot be faked.