Will bots ruin Christmas?

Lawmakers are trying to stop Grinch bots from snapping up all the hottest toys this holiday season.

If Jingle All the Way were made today, it might not be Arnold vs. Sinbad, but dads vs. Grinch bots.

“Grinch bots” mop up all the hottest toys on the market before human customers can get them.

The demand drives up the resale price, allowing scalpers to make a pretty penny off desperate shoppers on 3rd-party sites like eBay.

For instance, in 2017, Fingerlings — cute monkey toys — retailed for $14.99, but were snapped up and resold for up to $1k, per NPR.

How do Grinch bots work?

Bots are frequently used on in-demand commodities including trendy sneakers and the PS5.

The bots scrape retail websites for a particular item, then zip through checkout faster than any human. Some can even get around CAPTCHAs.

In 2016, the Better Online Ticket Sales Act — AKA the BOTS Act — outlawed using bots for ticket scalping. Earlier this year, the federal government announced settlements with 3 alleged violators totaling ~$3.7m.

But what about the toys?

Earlier this week, lawmakers introduced the Stopping Grinch Bots Act, which would expand on the 2016 BOTS Act and extend to ecommerce, banning bots from bypassing digital retailers’ security measures.

The bill isn’t new. Lawmakers previously proposed it in November 2018 and 2019, but it died in Congress both times.

Chuck Bell, advocacy programs director for Consumer Reports, told The Hustle it’s not uncommon for consumer protection legislation to move slowly due to power disparities between industry trade groups and consumer organizations.

“If other interest groups are indifferent or opposed, it often takes us longer to get our bills over the finish line,” he said.

The bill could also be perceived as a seasonal issue…

… causing interest to fade in the new year.

But with media reports shining a light on year-round bot woes (e.g., trying to get Nvidia’s new video card or a Nintendo Switch), Bell hopes there’ll be a push for action.

Bots don’t even enjoy playing Animal Crossing!

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