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Eurovision – The Ticket Race Against Bots

Photo by Michael Doherty. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

Staff writer Connor Williams writes about the “bot software” that is making it near to impossible to buy tickets for your favourite events and artists. 

The Eurovision song contest final sold out the available 6,000 tickets in a staggering 36 minutes. The entire contest, which has nine shows in total, was later sold out just 90 minutes after release. In the race against the clock, those of us who battled the internet queue for a place in the final were mostly left feeling disappointed and astounded by the small amount of time we had. While concerts selling out fast is not a new phenomenon, it is frustrating to hear that the more analogue amongst us (myself included) have been queuing unfairly with programmed bots. Is this to be expected of all big-time ticket sales from now on or is there a resolve in sight?

Ticket bots are capable of performing tasks like rushing to the online checkout at speeds far greater than the time it takes us to type, click, fumble with card details, and eventually press purchase. Using one is illegal, but this has not stopped the now multi-million dollar ticket reselling market from growing. This is because it is not just fraudsters and touts (digital resellers) that use bots, there are entire organisations dedicated to using “bot software” to improve their chances at pipping others to the digital post.

Most recently, in the process of buying Eurovision tickets, many people found themselves 2000+ places behind where they were originally put by the Ticketmaster website as bots queue barged, allowing for touts to scoop up more tickets and prohibit buyers from getting their tickets the legitimate way. As a result of this, tickets have since been sold at prices far beyond the original asking price set by Eurovision.

Infrastructure surrounding how bots are dealt with by online platforms is wholly unregulated, as has been seen before with prior Adele and Taylor Swift concerts. Despite legislation, individuals who are looking for tickets earnestly are being funnelled into either spending thousands or having to miss the opportunity to see their favourite artists at a price they were not promised. This structure must change to ensure more inclusive audiences.

This then leads to the question of resolve. How can the playing field even out for those who are purchasing tickets legally and those who are using bots? An initial thought is to look back at the legislation and the repercussions of what using “bot software” should entail. Currently, those caught using bots to purchase products can be charged an “unlimited fine”, however, a penalty deterrent seems null and void when there are significant issues with enforceability. At present, one of the predominant ways in which bots are caught by companies is through CAPTCHAs, which many of you will know as the “I am not a robot” box that must be clicked in order to get onto a variety of different sites. However, these methods are definitely not foolproof and new machine learning technology, like AI, is now advanced enough to mimic human actions online. There are other methods of preventing bots online, yet significant time is needed to advance them beyond current bot capabilities.

The ticket sales industry has changed shape for the consumer and navigating a fairer system for the future will be a difficult challenge. As everyone knows, all things can be bought from the internet, it’s a modern-day pleasure to be able to press a few buttons and expect a delivery the next day. However, if bots are to continue wreaking havoc on sales and causing websites to break down, as Ticketmaster did for so many on Eurovision release day, then a return to analogue sales may be of some value. Perhaps going to a shop and buying a physical ticket is the way forward. But this just as likely runs into issues concerning an openness to fraud and the impacts on sustainability. Thus, the ticketing problem is yet to be solved, and I suspect it will not be for some time.

In a technologically evolving world, the ways in which we will go about doing simple tasks are looking like they will change again, just as they did with the internet. The fact that we cannot buy Eurovision tickets is not the biggest tech problem we face today, but perhaps it is a sign of something greater. It shows that tasks we take for granted are being performed by bots in unwantedly more efficient ways than individuals can. Eurovision tickets are gone, get in line quick for the next concert you want to attend.

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