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Lawmakers introduce bill to stop bots from ruining holiday shopping

Scalpers use bots to buy out all the best gifts and resell them at much higher prices.

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US lawmakers introduced a bill to stop "Grinch" bots.
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Democratic lawmakers want to shut down shopping bots beloved by scalpers.

The proposed "Stopping Grinch Bots Act" would make it illegal to use bots to shop online and also outlaw reselling items purchased by bots.

Lawmakers label them "Grinch" bots because, during the holiday season, resellers use them to buy inventory of highly coveted toys that can be resold at highly inflated prices. Often times, these bots are so quick that they can purchase entire stocks of items before people can even add them to their carts.

Sens. Tom Udall, Richard Blumenthal and Chuck Schumer along with Rep. Paul Tonko made the announcement on Black Friday -- a massive shopping day that broke records with $6.2 billion in online sales. Cyber Monday is also on track to become the largest online shopping day in US history.

"Middle class folks save up — a little here, a little there — working to afford the hottest gifts of the season for their kids but ever-changing technology and its challenges are making that very difficult. It's time we help restore an even playing field by blocking the bots," said Schumer, a  Democrat from New York, in a statement.  

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Congress has passed legislation in the past against shopping bots, but the 2016 Better Online Ticket Sales Act only placed restrictions on machines buying concert tickets. Because of that oversight, bots designed to stock up and scalp other items have been able to fly by without consequences. 

"The American people should be able to spend the holidays with their loved ones, not forced to camp out at store openings or race against an automated buying algorithm just to get an affordable gift for their kids," Tonko, a Democrat from New York, said. 

While the proposed legislation is focused around the holiday season and toys, the Grinch Bots act would apply to all retailers online. Toys aren't the only items that resellers online send swarms of bots to.

Security researchers noted that bots designed to buy rare sneakers are a persistent issue, as developers will create AI to buy shoes from companies like Nike and Adidas as quickly as possible.

The bots alone can sell for $2,750. In March, researchers from Akamai saw that a botnet was sending more than 473 million requests to purchase sneakers in a single day.

"Popular items like Super Nintendo Classic consoles, limited edition sneakers, and collectible figurines are commonly out-of-stock faster than any normal human can order — having Senators Schumer, Blumenthal, Udall and Rep. Tonko recognize this and act is an important step to keeping the playing field even," Jarrod Overson, a director of engineering at Shape Security, said in an email.

The proposed bill leaves it open for security researchers to use bots on retailer websites to find vulnerabilities.

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