People racing to buy concert tickets for famous acts such as Pink or Bruce Springsteen are losing out to high-tech scalpers who siphon off popular live event tickets using purchasing syndicates and software “bots”.
Australian ticketing providers Ticketmaster and Ticketek both confirmed bots were being used in Australia, but would not say how big a role they played in depriving event-goers of fair-priced tickets.
The scalped tickets often end up on secondary online markets such as eBay, Gumtree and on the Swiss-based Viagogo for highly inflated prices almost immediately after events sell out, which can often occur within minutes for big-name artists. Tickets for the most desirable seats in particular almost always get snapped up in the first initial minutes of sale, and are a prime target for scalpers.
The bots – computer programs that conduct automated tasks for their masters and in this case purchase tickets en masse – are often hard to detect, making it difficult for ticketing providers to block.
Purchasing syndicates using an army of cheap labour are even harder to fight, as they buy tickets just like any other human would.
According to The New York Times, bots have been used to buy more than 60 per cent of the most desirable tickets for some shows on Ticketmaster’s US website.
On one online marketplace last week, there were 171 tickets available to Bruce Springsteen’s upcoming Sydney concert, and some front-row tickets had a mark-up of 278 per cent on the original price. Tickets to Springsteen shows in other cities were selling for almost 10 times their original price.
“We are aware of bot technology being used in the Australian market. However, Ticketek has robust anti-bot technology in place to identify and quarantine bots that visit our site,” said Cameron Hoy, Ticketek Australia’s managing director.
Mr Hoy couldn’t say for certain whether some bots could bypass Ticketek’s anti-bot technology.
Responding to the 60 per cent US figure on bots, Mr Hoy said: “We do not see this on the same scale in Australia.”
Purchasing syndicates – groups of people buying large amounts of tickets and on-selling them – were of far greater concern to Mr Hoy, and “a primary catalyst” of ticket scalping based on Ticketek’s monitoring of sales.
Maria O’Connor, managing director at rival Ticketmaster in Australia, said bots were being used to a “limited” extent in the local market. But like Mr Hoy, she couldn’t say how often and to what extent.
Ticketmaster uses CAPTCHA (Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart) as one method to defend against bots and mass ticket purchases. This uses distorted letter puzzles only humans are meant to be able to decipher.
Ticketek said it removed such technology from its website after it developed an “alternative solution that provided increased levels of security”.
The NSW government last year announced it was investigating a range of proposals aimed at protecting consumers from ticket scalping and fraud.
A spokesman for NSW Fair Trading Minister Anthony Roberts said the government planned to release them “in the coming months”.
Professor Sanjay Chawla, an expert in machine learning at the University of Sydney’s school of IT, said it was notoriously difficult to defend against bots.
“You have to keep working on [the anti-bot technology],” Professor Chawla said.
Bruce Springsteen tickets in Sydney
General admission standing on Ticketek for Sydney concert (now sold-out): $227.90
General admission standing on secondary market Viagogo: $862.87
Bruce Springsteen tickets in Brisbane
General admission standing on Ticketek for Brisbane concert (now sold-out): $227.90
General admission standing on secondary market Viagogo: $2235.42
This reporter is on Facebook: /bengrubb
The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.