Humans Vs. Bots

Bots are back in the spotlight following the recent indictment of the owners of Wiseguy Tickets over charges that they used the automated programs to speed through CAPTCHA challenges on ticketing sites.

Evidence of the use of such programs first surfaced in 2007 at the height of the Hannah Montana ticket craze, capturing the attention of frazzled parents of tweens and media outlets coast to coast.

Ticketmaster even sued and won an injunction and $18 million award against RMG Technologies – another company that used bots to circumvent TM’s technological copy protection systems.

But that ruling apparently failed to eliminate the threat of such programs, which continue to be a thorn in the side of the ticketing industry.

Jamie Tomasello, abuse operations manager for online security company Cloudmark, told the Star-Ledger that while ticket vendors search for duplicate purchases from the same credit card and mailing addresses that don’t match up in efforts to block bot transactions, often those efforts are for naught.

“It’s unfortunate and unfair for the regular human concertgoer, who won’t get a seat,” Tomasello said. “There’s no way for you as a human being to get it because you’re competing with automation.”

In internal documents, Wiseguy even boasted of the company’s ticket-purchasing prowess.

“I suspect in the past there were some opportunity for normal people with a macro and Internet Explorer to score a few quite good tickets for themselves,” company founder Kenneth Lowson wrote in an e-mail. “This is probably no longer the case. Therefore such people are either forced to buy worse seats from [Ticketmaster] once you have got all the best, or must now use brokers.”

The root of the problem, apparently, is that it’s very difficult on the vendor side to discern whether there’s an actual breather or simply a bot at the other end of a transaction.

“They really are purchasing tickets, so it’s hard to determine that they’re not legitimate,” Laura Mather of Silver Tail Systems told the paper. “The Internet is set up to be very anonymous and very efficient. That’s a great thing for 99 percent of the cases.”

It’s unclear whether the Wiseguy indictment will impact the industry. However, the publicity surrounding such cases has led several states, most recently Vermont, to consider anti-bot legislation.