A group of Democrats are introducing the “Stopping Grinch Bots Act,” a proposal with an incredibly stupid name that is aimed at preventing (or at least curtailing) the use of bots to snatch up stocks of goods from online retailers. Something many of you trying to get PS5s and new graphics cards have been struggling with mightily over the last 18 months.
Representative Paul Tonko, Senator Richard Blumenthal, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, and Senator Ben Ray Luján, announced the bill on November 29, which aims to “crack down on cyber Grinches using ‘bot’ technology to quickly buy up whole inventories of popular holiday toys and resell them to parents at higher prices.”
This isn’t the first time Democrat lawmakers have tried this; as PCMag points out, this is actually a reintroduction of a bill that never went anywhere back in 2019. It’s hoped that this time the drastic rise of bots and scalping in the months since the pandemic started will lead to greater support.
The Stopping Grinch Bots Act has the support of groups like Consumer Reports, Consumer Federation of America, and the National Consumer League. Its ties to Christmas are odd, as is the bill’s focus on families and kids, with Schumer saying, “The average holiday shopper is unable to compete with the light speed of the all-too-common Grinch bot and are then held at ransom by scalpers and third-party resellers when trying to buy holiday presents.”
This is a year-round problem that affects everyone! From PlayStations to Jordans to Nvidia cards to movie tickets. Pinning the whole thing on the holidays might be an attempt to appeal to lawmaker’s sensibilities, but it’s also doing a disservice to the scale of the problem.
In terms of how the Stopping Grinch Bots Act would actually work, it would be based on 2016's Better Online Ticket Sales Act, which cracked down on bots and resale practices for things like concerts and sporting events. This would “apply the mechanism of the BOTS Act to e-commerce sites to ban bots bypassing security measures on online retail sites.”
That is a lot easier said than done. Live events that require human attendance are one thing; the vast numbers of transactions made on the resale market, delivered straight to people’s doors, are another matter entirely. We’ve already seen in markets like sneakers that manufacturers and retailers don’t really care who is buying their goods, as long as someone is. Once the product is out the door, what happens with it isn’t their problem.
Any attempt to crack down on this would require the cooperation of countless retailers across the US, making changes to their websites and sales policies that from their perspective they’ve got almost no incentive to implement. And besides, while retailers can help alleviate the problem, they can’t solve it, because the problem here is a supply vs demand issue, not a retail enforcement issue. So long as Nike want to make fewer Dunks than people can buy, or Sony has trouble getting enough chips to make PS5s, there will be scarcity, and wherever there’s scarcity there will be a resale market, regardless of the intentions of stores and politicians.
But yes, to end this on less of a bummer, they can at least try something. And any changes that any retailers end up making will be an improvement over how things are at the moment.