Senators Push FTC To Fight Bots After Taylor Swift Fiasco

Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) are asking the Federal Trade Commission what it’s doing to stop the use of bots in online ticketing.

It’s the latest political salvo in the cannonade of criticism fired from Capitol Hill in the wake of the disastrous onsale for Taylor Swift’s “The Eras Tour,” which crashed ticketing giant Ticketmaster’s website. This forced Ticketmaster to delay West Coast sales during the Verified Fan sale and push back the Capital One cardholders sale before ultimately canceling the broader public sale altogether.

GettyImages 1237101865
Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) listen to testimony in a Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee hearing December 8, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

In an interview with CNBC two days after the Verified Fan sale, Live Nation chairman Greg Maffei said bots were partially to blame.

“The Live Nation team is sympathetic to the long wait times and fans who couldn’t get what they wanted,” Maffei told CNBC. “Reality is it’s a function of the massive demand that Taylor Swift has. The site was supposed to be opened up for 1.5 million verified Taylor Swift Fans. We had 14 million people hit the site – including bots, another story, which are not supposed to be there. And despite all the challenges and the breakdowns, we did sell over 2 million tickets that day. We could have filled 900 stadiums.”

in 2016, Blackburn, the ranking member of the Senate’s Commerce Committee, sponsored a bill, co-sponsored by committee chairman Blumenthal, meant to criminalize the use of bots by scalpers.

The Better Online Ticket Sales – or BOTS — Act “prohibits the circumvention of a security measure, access control system, or other technological control measure used online by a ticket issuer. It also prohibits the selling or offering of an event ticket obtained through a circumvention violation if the seller participated in, had the ability to control, or should have known about the violation. The BOTS Act gives the FTC and state attorneys general the authority to enforce violations as unfair and deceptive practices.”

Since it became law, however, the FTC has only taken one enforcement action. In January 2021, the commission alleged three New York-based ticket brokers purchased more than 150,000 tickets using automated software. The FTC filed a $31 million judgment, but settled for $3.7 million.

“Recently, several high profile incidents arose where consumers encountered serious difficulties purchasing tickets through online ticket vendors, including Ticketmaster and AXS. While bots may not be the only reason for these problems, which Congress is evaluating, fighting bots is an important step in reducing consumer costs in the online ticketing industry,” the senators wrote in a letter. “While some consumers opt to purchase tickets on the secondary market, most fans cannot afford to pay thousands of dollars for a single concert ticket. Some reports have found secondary ticket sales ranging from $1,000 (Bruce Springsteen) to $40,000 (Adele). Preventing this type of consumer harm is exactly why Congress chose to enact the BOTS Act six years ago and why we both chose to sponsor that bill. “

Blumenthal and Blackburn asked the FTC to disclose if there are any pending enforcement actions under the BOTS Act, why it has only heretofore taken a single enforcement action, if there are obstacles to enforcing the act and if the commission needs more tools to enforce the law.