Far Fetch

News for nerds

Buying up high-demand products for resale at an exorbitant mark-up (AKA scalping) has been a common tactic for decades. Unfortunately, with the rise of technology and automated checkout bots, the problem has become nearly unmanageable for retailers and ordinary consumers who want to get their hands on the latest toys, gaming consoles, and PC hardware. Some relief might finally be in sight, though: lawmakers are introducing a bill that could ban the use of checkout bots outright.

The bill has been dubbed the “Stopping Grinch Bots Act,” and it is being introduced by a group of Democratic lawmakers: Connecticut’s Richard Blumenthal, New York’s Paul Tonko and Charles Schumer, and finally, New Mexico’s Ben Ray Luján. You’ll find the full text of the announcement on Tonko’s website.

For starters, we should note that while the bulk of the announcement focuses on bots buying up toys and (to quote Senator Blumenthal) “ruining kids’ holidays,” the wording of the bill itself is much broader and may apply to a wide range of products. That includes PS5s, the Xbox Series X/S, and perpetually sold-out GPUs.

The bill states that it would be unlawful to “circumvent a security measure, access control system, or other technological control” intended to enforce purchasing limits or manage inventory. It would be similarly illegal to sell products that a seller knew, or should have known, were acquired through those means. Exceptions are made for security researchers probing for vulnerabilities.

At least, that was the bill’s text when it was first introduced in late 2018, and subsequently in 2019. An updated 2021 version of the bill has not been published on the official Congress website yet, though it’s unlikely that much will have changed.

It’s worth noting that it isn’t just Democratic lawmakers that are seeking to curb the usage of bots and similar tech in online shopping — Consumer Reports, the National Consumer League, and the Consumer Federation of America have all publicly backed the bill. No Republican lawmakers have signed on yet, but perhaps they’ll support it down the line; if the bill manages to get off the ground.

With that summary out of the way, what are your thoughts on this legislation? Do you feel it’s the right move to combat bots, or should a different strategy be adopted?